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

alicettlg_payoff_1-sht_v13_sm


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.

Black Mass Review: Thug Life


Director: Scott Cooper

Writers: Mark Mallouk, Jez Butterworth (screenplay), Dick Lehr, Gerard O’Neill (book)

Stars: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon

28853fdf04e11a84746d32abb79b8d2ab9de0361


 

Release date: September 18th, 2015

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 122 minutes


 

3/5

Review: Black Mass

Into the Woods Review: Show-stopping Streep-tacular


Director: Rob Marshall

Writer: James Lapine (book and screenplay)

Stars: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick


Release date: January 8th, 2014

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 124 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: The dynamic performances.

Worst part: The final 25 minutes.

Into the Woods, born from acclaimed composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim’s glorious 1987 Tony Award-winning stage production, serves a specific purpose: making fun of everything you love. Despite the patronising satirical glow, his style allows theatre-goers, fantasy-epic aficionados etc. to laugh with his production and at genre art. Several years ago, fans of Sweeney Todd were treated to Tim Burton’s spirited remake starring white-faced Johnny Depp and soot-covered soundstages. So, does this one hit the high notes or fall to wailing lows?

Tinseltown’s latest Broadway-to-Blockbuster smash is up against this Oscar Season’s biggest hitters. Wholly separating itself from its WWII/manipulative biopic/satirical broadway/Hobbit-starring competition, Into the Woods flaunts its creative consultants, director, and starry cast’s better sides. Placed in the Awards-hungry musical/comedy slot, it compares favourably to every other recent musical-to-screen effort (Les Miserables, among others). This musical deconstructs significant Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales including Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Cinderella, and Jack and the Beanstalk. In a small village, a wack-a-doo witch (Meryl Streep) tasks a cursed-to-never-conceive baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) to obtain four items – a cow as white as milk, a cloak as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold – before the next blue moon. For varying – albeit well-known – reasons, scullery maid turned princess hopeful Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), peasant boy Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), and Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) also venture into the dreaded neighbouring woods.

The musical-to-movie switch is a long-standing Hollywood process. Director Rob Marshall (Chicago, Nine) has dedicated himself to the art form. Even his songless flops, Memoirs of a Geisha and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, reek of flamboyance and grand-scale camp. Marshall efficiently applies his vast skill-set to Into the Woods, delivering a extravagance-fuelled hit rivalling Chicago‘s overt magnetism. The filmmaker, applying a unheard-of rehearsal schedule here, protects the original material’s legacy while lathering his style across each frame. Indeed, Sondheim’s outside-the-box storytelling style and pin-point sense of humour shine throughout this slick adaptation. Appealing to cinema-goers and theatre buffs alike, it snappily pays homage to Sondheim’s enduring legacy. Author/playwright/screenwriter James Lapine valiantly trims his original ground-breaking material down to fit effortlessly. This adaptation aptly carries its own heaving weight throughout its first three quarters. Marshall and co. succinctly interweave all four fairy tales into the central plot-line. Indeed, this Avengers-style gathering of fairy tale favourites draws out that inner-child-esque nostalgic glow. Its balance between anachronistic satire and old-timey fantasy fluff will satisfy families and cinephiles this Oscar season. It’s darker elements – connotations alluding to pedophilia and adultery – are overshadowed by its winning formula.

“I was raised to be charming, not sincere.” (Cinderella’s Prince (Chris Pine), Into the Woods).

Sadly, Into the Woods‘ story topples over with the full force of a giant, a carriage, and Rapunzel’s heavenly locks combined. The original premise, depicting the meaningless of life post “happily ever after” for these fictional celebrities, is preserved haphazardly for the final 30 minutes. The finale, stretching this adaptation into a discomforting fourth act, throws unrefined resolutions and peculiar tonal switches into the otherwise hearty, designed-to-win potion. Eventually, the abundance of character arcs and story-lines sends it down the wrong path. Despite these near-crippling flaws, it’s an ample antidote to our recent slew of dark, dreary fairy-tale adaptations (Snow White & the Huntsman…ZZZZZ). It simply, and smartly, lets heroes be likeable and villains be despicable. However, the cynical twang elevates its forgettable array of musical numbers. The standout, oddly enough, involves a testosterone-fuelled feud between a Hollywood heartthrob and relative newcomer. The charming princes (Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen) engage in a hysterically homoerotic number (‘Agony’) comparable to Top Gun‘s volleyball scene. Sadly, despite the cast and crew’s immense talents, the surrounding numbers struggle to escape its shadow. Red and the Wolf(Johnny Depp)’s set-piece – ‘Hello, Little Girl’ – is a mild reprieve. Streep and Blunt, yet again, deliver astounding turns in leading roles. Despite their underutilised supporting characters, Tracy Ullman, Mackenzie Mauzy, and Christine Baranski make a strong case for more big-time female roles.

Into the Woods‘ true, uncompromising magic comes from a desire to please audiences rather than shock or repel them. In the midst of imitation games, unbroken actress turned directors, and Timothy Spall’s grunts, this smash hit transitions gorgeously from the Big Apple to the bright lights. Marshall, recovering from tedious recent efforts, wholeheartedly succeeds with this hilarious and arresting fantasy epic. Its journey-better-than-the-destination vibe, for better or worse, separates it from the ‘village’.

Verdict: A family-friendly and entertaining musical-satire.

Transcendence Review – Slower than Dial-up


Director: Wally Pfister

Writer: Jack Paglen

Stars: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Morgan Freeman

Transcendence2014Poster


Release date: April 24th, 2014

Distributors: Warner Bros. Entertainment, Summit Entertainment

Country:  USA

Running time: 119 minutes


 

 

 

2/5

Best part: The unique visuals. 

Worst part: Johnny Depp.

Sci-fi blockbuster Transcendence had the perfect ingredients to deliver a thrilling and enjoyable addition to this ever-lasting genre. With an intriguing first-time director, starry cast, and interesting ideas at the helm, this movie had enough potential to be something truly…transcendent (the word does indeed suit this situation). In fact, this computer-charged techno-thriller could’ve become the antivirus for the ever-growing trend of superhero/explosion-fuelled extravaganzas. However, as you can tell from my judgemental tone, the final product hurriedly short circuits.

Johnny Depp.

When judging this flick objectively, it’s difficult not to turn against this disappointing and bizarre creation. As yet another case of “interesting premise spoiled by poor execution”, Transcendence promises significantly more than it can possibly hope to deliver. Not only does it promise too much, but the very few answers it does deliver are bafflingly silly and superficial. Before I delve into this sci-fi actioner’s flaws, I’ll attempt to describe its patchy and cumbersome plot. Similarly to our unfortunate lead characters’ actions, unlocking its labyrinthine code could unleash dire consequences! We start off in the not-too-distant future as renowned researcher Max Waters (Paul Bettany) trudges through a post-apocalyptic Earth. The story then jumps back five years, and prolific researcher Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) and his wife/fellow scientist Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) are close to developing the first machine to be driven by sentience and collective intelligence. Aiming to “unlock the most fundamental secrets of the universe”, Will and his team, supported by his mentor Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman), are willing enough to present their PINN project to the world. Examining the First World’s reliance on technology, the limitlessness of Artificial Intelligence, Biocentrism, nanotechnology, the Singularity, and the analog/digital debate, Transcendence almost seems intent on questioning romantic-drama Her‘s viewpoints. Most importantly, Depp being everywhere at once is a terrifying prospect! Unfortunately, Depp’s miscasting jumpstarts Transcendence‘s horrifying descent.

Paul Bettany & Rebecca Hall.

Nowadays, sci-fi extravaganzas like Prometheus and Elysium are criticised for touching on valuable ideas without examining them. However, unlike Transcendence, those projects are salvaged by action sequences, intense moments, and powerful visuals. I’ll admit the movie’s set-up appears entertaining…on paper. Sadly, with Transcendence drifting away from paper in all respects, the narrative’s technological side overshadows anything resembling believability, entertainment value, intelligence, or empathy. A radical extremist group called Revolutionary Independence from Technology (RIFT), led by Bree (Kate Mara), ruins Will’s life and projects immediately after his Earth-shattering presentation. Within the first third, director Wally Pfister (Oscar-winning cinematographer for such Christopher Nolan features as the Dark Knight trilogy and Inception) uploads tension and promising characters into the narrative’s perplexing database. With Nolan as an executive producer, Pfister strives for Nolan’s all-encompassing vision and direct touch. The first third is fuelled with convincing moments and momentous concepts. However, after Will’s consciousness is uploaded into PINN’s systems, the narrative becomes as exciting and naturalistic as watching lines of code zoom across a screen (spoiler: it’s dull!). Telegraphing predicable and aimless events, the story’s all-important concepts are picked up and dropped faster than Will’s internet access. In addition, Transcendence jumps from one bizarre and illogical plot-point to another. Will, hacking into the world’s governmental and financial structures, carries out logistically and ethically questionable actions without consequence. Jumping two years into the future, twists, turns, and character motivations contradict one another. Worse still, the final third’s absurd revelations and climactic moments undermine everything laid out within the first-two thirds.

“We’re not gonna fight them. We’re gonna transcend them.” (Will Caster (Johnny Depp), Transcendence).

Morgan Freeman & Cillian Murphy.

Sadly, Pfister, despite being one of Hollywood’s most talented figures, has succumb to Hollywood’s worst virus: studio interference. However, despite the directorial failings, the blame rests with Jack Paglen’s incessant and simplistic screenplay. Despite being influenced by 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris, Paglen’s work is nowhere near as insightful or purposeful as it thinks it is. At one point, FBI agent Donald Buchanan (Cillian Murphy), one of several underdeveloped characters, compares Will’s Deity-like existence to Y2K. This scene outlines the narrative’s most crippling flaw. Transcendence, aiming for the blockbuster and romantic-drama crowds, doesn’t draw the line between technobabble and valuable exposition. Its convoluted answers will confuse anyone lacking an intrinsic understanding of Computer Science. However, those studying this subject will laugh at the movie’s monumental factual errors and plot-holes. Its viewers can, at the very least, settle for its splendid visuals. Pfister, thanks to his immense background in cinematography, can bolster even the most unappealing of locations. With everything at his disposal, Pfister’s style makes decrepit warehouses, desert-set towns, and laboratories look immaculately picturesque. The action sequences, though nonsensical, do elevate this otherwise tiresome and dour sci-fi drama. Throwing in explosions, car chases, and shootouts, these more enlightening moments overshadow the meandering mid-section. Sadly, by this point, the narrative’s top-heavy structure has delivered a messy, nonsensical, and forgettable effort.

Powered by a top-notch cast, riveting director, and memorable subject matter, Transcendence could, and should, have been an instant classic. Ambitiously, it’s over-arching reach explores concepts many big-name directors and writers are afraid of. But why are they afraid? Is it a primal fear of what they don’t understand? Or are they waiting for someone else to grapple them? Either way, Transcendence is the perfect example of filmmakers, and characters, delving into all the wrong places. This potentially creative and impactful sci-fi yarn ends up being as laughable, frustrating, and nonsensical as Windows Vista.

Verdict: A nonsensical and monotonous misstep. 

Dark Shadows Review – Bad, Bad Burton


Director: Tim Burton

Writer: Seth Grahame-Smith 

Stars: Johnny Depp, Eva Green, Michelle Pfeiffer, Chloe Grace Moretz 


Release date: May 11th, 2012

Distributors: Warner Bros. Pictures, Roadshow Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 113 minutes


 

2/5

Best part: Johnny Depp.

Worst part: The underdeveloped characters.

This tale from the crypt proves once and for all that Tim Burton has directorally run out of steam. His use of the same narrative tricks and visual motifs over and over again may please the die-hard Burton geeks, but non- believers may wish to steer clear of his latest white-faced, gothic adventure-comedy Dark Shadows.

Johnny Depp.

Johnny Depp.

Based on the 1960/70s soap opera of the same name, the film begins in 1782 with the Collins’s; a wealthy family leaving Britain for the new world. Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) is the bright son of the Collin’s family and their new fortunes in the newly built Collinsport, feeling so powerful he rejects the maid of the Collin’s estate, Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), who has a craving for both which-craft and revenge. She sickeningly murders his family and new love while cursing him forever as a vampire. Awakened in 1972 with a thirst for blood and a fresh start with his once great wealth, Barnabas must contend with the manor’s new inhabitants; his wacky ancestors. With a stuck up head of the family (Michelle Pfeiffer), a rebellious teen girl (Chloe Grace Moretz), a drunkard (Jackie Earle Haley), a hired live-in Psychiatrist (Helena Bonham Carter) and a strange little boy (Guliver McGrath), Barnabus must deal with clashing personalities, a vastly different time in history, a sexy yet vindictive Collinsport hotshot and alluring new visitor to the manor, Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote).

Eva Green.

Eva Green.

The real name of Dark Shadows should be ‘Tim Burton on auto-pilot’. Everything you think a Burton film involves is here in some sort of slithering form or another. Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter show up in important roles, white, sour faces cover the characters in every frame, beautiful set and costume designs and one underused yet significant actor after another. With Burton’s recent slate of uninspiring and unnecessary remakes and interpretations such as Alice in Wonderland, Planet of the Apes and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, he can now add this adaptation of the infamous gothic yet satirical soap opera to the list. The story problems stem from Burton’s blatant disinterest in the unfolding of beautiful yet scary events. Much like his other remakes, the story begins with a whisper of promise. The prologue illustrating Barnabas’ violent fall from uptown grace by dark forces, starts Dark Shadows off in a necessarily dark fashion. Soon after however, the film heads to the 1970’s, where one obvious joke on the styles and stereotypes of the 70s, and ironic vampire humour, rise from the grave.

“I have already prepared my counter-proposal. It reads thusly: You may strategically place your wonderful lips upon my posterior and kiss it repeatedly!” (Barnabus Collins (Johnny Depp), Dark Shadows).

Michelle Pfeiffer.

Michelle Pfeiffer.

The hip soundtrack, featuring a blatantly pointless concert performance from Alice Cooper, rings throughout this fish-out-of-water tale, while clashing ideologies between Barnabus and the 70s itself surprisingly click in several of the slow dialogue moments. Several talented actors are forced into small, underused roles. Moretz, famous for her ass-kicking, potty mouth portrayal of Hit Girl, is creepily forced to grow up too fast in her portrayal of a slightly filthy teenager in the era of free love. Bonham Carter is only used to bring colour to many dull moments of character based dialogue. Aussie newcomer Heathcote is charming as the other new introduction to the Collin’s family, while Earle Haley is sadly wasted in a role entirely based on silly slapstick comedy, a real shame after his brilliant and sickeningly disturbed portrayal of the anti hero Rorschach in Watchmen. Burton’s typical auteur symbols do manage to keep the film together. Depp provides his usual charismatic and intensifying abilities as yet another indistinguishable and supernatural character from Burton’s disturbed mind. While Burton’s contrasting style of bright colours and soul sucking darkness in every scene portrays a fitting representation of this supernatural yarn. 

Burton, once considered the breakthrough auteur of Hollywood cinema, has transitioned from Edward Scissorhands to a parody of himself. With Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter holding him down, Dark Shadows solidifies his journey from greatness to messiness.

Verdict: A dull and convoluted fantasy flick.