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.

Grimsby Audio Review: Baron Wasteland


Director: Louis Leterrier

Writers: Sacha Baron Cohen, Phil Johnston, Peter Baynham

Stars: Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong, Penelope Cruz, Rebel Wilson

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Release date: March 10th, 2016

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Countries: USA, UK

Running time: 83 minutes


1½/5

Review:

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. 

Hugo Review – Scorsese’s Cinemascope


Director: Martin Scorsese

Writer: John Logan (screenplay), Brian Selznick (novel)

Stars: Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen


Release date: November 23rd, 2011

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 126 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Scorsese’s direction.

Worst part: The distracting side stories.

With the laundry list of classic films to his credit, Martin Scorsese would seem like a perfect choice to direct both a charming kids film and a subtle homage to the origin of cinema. He has pulled this off with Hugo, a slapstick filled, heart-warming adventure perfect for the family.

sa Butterfield & Chloe Grace Moretz.

The adventures of Hugo Cabaret (Asa Butterfield) start out in Montparnasse Railway Station in Paris. Using the station as his home, he navigates his way around in perfect precision; dodging the wacky but vicious handicapped station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), stealing from shop owners and changing the clocks in the station everyday. After being caught stealing by miserable toy shop owner George (Ben Kingsley), he not only forms an uneasy truce with him but creates a bond with his god-daughter Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz). Their bond is brought together by their love of storytelling and the longing for excitement. In their discoveries, involving the history of film, they find that there is more to the grumpy George than they ever could have imagined.

Ben Kingsley.

Based on the book The Invention of Hugo Cabaret by Brian Sleznik, the film perfectly captures the imagination of a child exploring this world. A comfortable look of 1930’s Paris created by constant panning and tracking shots of the station, its zany companions, a mostly up beat piano and accordion based score and a fun assortment of slapstick gags and supporting characters create a living, breathing setting to Hugo. Despite the consistently funny gags and an ever charming cast, some of the characters, such as Hugo’s father (Jude Law), kind book store owner Monsieur Labisse (Christopher Lee) and Hugo’s caretaker Uncle Claude (Ray Winstone) sadly get short shrift. The short stories involving the supporting characters tend to slow the film down and fail to end with a satisfying payoff. The story of Hugo and Isabelle discovering film history is the most beguiling aspect of the story. Despite the film’s slow first half, describing Hugo’s love for an automaton left to him after the death of his father, the second half picks up, subtly cross cutting classic film references together with their discoveries as we follow a race through a time in film history. Hugo is a delight for film buffs and the wider audience alike. Scorsese’s style, of consistently immersive 3D effects and CGI backgrounds mixed in with simple overlapping editing effects and stop motion animation, illustrates the importance of technological achievements throughout film history.

“My life has taught me one lesson, Hugo Cabret, and not the one I thought it would. Happy endings only happen in the movies.” (Georges Melies (Ben Kingsley), Hugo).

Sacha Baron Cohen.

References are consistent as we see the first films and how they captured the imaginations of the early film going audiences. Scenes describing the effect of Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat and the clock hand sequence from Safety Last!, delicately illustrate the origin and illusion of cinema to a modern audience. References to Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, the Lumiere Brothers and to a greater extent George Melies are also peppered throughout this film as modern technology and Hugo’s love of cinema explain their significance in film history. The second half of the film is a delight as we see the rise and fall story of the first formalist director, George Melies. Scorsese’s re-creations of Melies’ efficient editing techniques and extravagant set and costume designs light up the screen. Scorsese’s vision is on show in every frame. From the brown and blue colour palette made famous by Scorsese in The Aviator, to the explained and unexplained references and the uplifting story of two bright kids on a whirlwind adventure in a bustling train station. Just like Hugo spying on others through holes in walls and clocks, the audience plays the part of Scorsese in being able to peer into his vision of both a Jean Pierre Jeunet like Paris and a homage to his childhood fantasies brought to life by the earliest films.

Despite the long-lasting thirst for power and blood, Scorsese’s filmography is chock-a-block with game-changers and out-of-the-box surprises. Diving into new territory, Hugo is a fun, rousing assault on the senses.

Verdict: An intelligent and heartfelt family flick.