Movie review: Alice Through The Looking Glass

Movie reviews

Hello!

This summer’s movie season seems to be dominated by comic book movies and live-action fairytales. So, let’s review the latest feature of the second genre – Alice Through The Looking Glass. I’ve  done a preview post for the film, where I discussed its director as well as other cinematic versions of Alice’s story – find it here.

While I didn’t really understand how Snow White and The Huntsman film got a sequel earlier this year (The Huntsman: Winter’s War), I do understand why this fairytale based property turned into a franchise – it earned a lot of money.And by ‘a lot’, I mean more than a billion dollars. I don’t know how it managed to do that, but it did. The Jungle Book – other 2016’s live action fairytale – will probably be joining the billion dollar club soon as well.

Writing

The film was written by Linda Woolverton, who wrote the first Alice live-action film as well as Maleficient and has also worked on stories of Disney animated classics (The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and Mulan). I have mixed feelings about the writing and the story of this film. Let’s go over the different parts of the plot point by point:

  1. The film opens with Alice as a Ship’s Captain. While it was definitely cool to see a female heroine in a typically male role, it was also extremely unbelievable, giving the 19th century setting of the film. (+/-)
  2. The film once again explored the gender norms and while this issue always angers me, I feel that it could have been approached in a less annoying, more complex and more satisfying way. (+/-)
  3. The idea of ‘impossible is possible’ was once again depicted in the film. Alice’s hero arc was to start believing in the impossible once again and I think that the film succeeded in portraying this development. (+)
  4. I also really enjoyed the topic of time in the film. How Alice first thought that Time was a villain and thief, but learned that he/it is actually her friend and a gift. In addition, I enjoyed the commentary of how the Time was against her, both literally and figuratively. The idea that when one’s clock runs out of Time, one dies was also quite nice and was interestingly represented in the film. The way Alice learned to heal with Time and parted with her father’s pocket watch at the end of the film was also a nice gesture. The main idea that one cannot change the past but can learn from it was also a wonderful message. Lastly, the character of Time could turn his inner clock to speed up Alice’s monologue – even though I enjoyed the majority of the film, at times, I really wanted to do the same and speed up the movie, but, sadly, couldn’t do that at the cinema. (+)
  5. The film had a lot of obvious exposition, which was really annoying. The screenwriter should have found a more organic way to convey the story rather than just have the characters spelling it out. (-)
  6. The movie also served as a prequel/backstory for the Red Queen, the White Queen, and the Mad Hatter. We found out why the Red Queen was crazy and had such a giant head, that the White Queen is not as innocent as she seemed to be and that Mad Hatter had family problems. While I appreciated the new info and was entertained by it, I also feel that some characters benefit from the lack of backstory – this allows the viewers to fill in the blanks however they like. (+/-)
  7. The pacing of the film was also a bit wonky. It simultaneously felt both rushed (from pit-stop to pit-stop) and like it was dragging on without anything really happening. (-)
  8. The parallels, presented in the film, were quite nice: how the chronosphere could be piloted like a real ship in the ocean of time and how both Alice and The Mad Hatter did not want to end up as their parents but still chose their family over everything else. (+)
  9. The way The Mad Hatter and the other Tea Time participants mocked Time was actually quite funny and clever (e.g. ‘I am ON Time’).(+)
  10. In the middle of the story, Alice returned to the real world for 5 min for no real reason. However, this allowed the scriptwriter to include the example of that stupid ‘science’ of 19th about female hysteria, diagnosed to any strong-headed women – another annoying sequence of the film. (-)
  11. The film’s heroine – Alice –  was also kinda the villain of the film for the majority of ti and it the last act had to fix her previous mistakes. I kinda feel that she managed to fix everything too quickly – I wish there would have been at least a few permanent consequences. Also, the fact that putting back that sphere suddenly settled everything, didn’t make much sense either. (+/-)
  12. The film’s ending was quite touching – Alice’s and The Mad Hatter’s goodbye was both sweet and touching. The ending in the real world was also cool, yet, as I’ve mentioned already, unbelievable in the 19th-century setting. (+/-)

Directing

Tim Burton did not return to direct Alice’s sequel and his presence (the cooky-ness and craziness) was not felt as much as I was expecting it to be felt. Instead, Burton was replaced by James Bobin. Bobin is a TV director and has only directed two feature films in his career – The Muppets and Muppets Most Wanted. Like the writing of Alice 2, its directing is also deeply flawed. However, I do feel that somewhere underneath this mediocre/less than mediocre film is a good movie. In general, the film definitely felt less Burton-y a.k.a. less dark, more light-hearted and lighter in the color scheme. The opening shot of the moon turning into Cheshire Cat’s smile was nice. All the visuals were good for the most part, but there were a few scenes where the CGI could have been neater. The actors also should have been told to interact with green screens in a more believable manner and their over-acting should have also been toned downed by the director. There is a difference between cooky-cartoonish characters and cartoon parodies/cliche characters, and I feel that Through The Looking Glasses’s characters, sadly,  belong to the second group.

A few cool visual effects were the Second/Minute/Hour monster, the sequence of the stopped Time and the hand-drawn-like end credits sequence. Questionable visual effects were Red Queen’s fruit/vegetable servants. The costumes, which also belong in the discussion of the visuals, were quite interesting. Alice’s Chinese-inspired costume was cool and impressive as well as the top of Time’s outfit – his bottom (those white tights) were a questionable choice as well.

In general, the way the film was directed left me with a lot of questions. The inconsistency was felt in the story too but it was even more obvious in the directing.

Acting

  • Mia Wasikowska as Alice was okay. Nothing bad but nothing ground-breaking. A film of hers that I’ve enjoyed much more is Jane Eyre.
  • Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter was also fine. Depp knows how to play crazy characters and we all know that. I wish he would take more serious roles like the one in Black Mass.
  • Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen was also serviceable. She screamed once again and acted like the child, because why not? I prefer Bonham Carter in less scream-ish roles – I especially liked her in Les Miserables.
  • Anne Hathaway as the White Queen was probably the most annoying character. Her hands and finger movements were distracting and added nothing to the character. Recent enjoyable films with HathawayThe Intern. Also, watch or re-watch The Devil Wears Prada. She’s really good in that picture.
  • Sacha Baron Cohen as Time was the most interesting character, I just wished that he wouldn’t have acted as clumsy as he did. As I’ve mentioned in the preview post for this film, I hate Baron Cohen’s satirical characters (Borat, Bruno) but really like him in theatrical roles like this one or like the ones in Les Miserables and Hugo.
  • Ed Speelers as James Harcourt. Speelers played the only redeeming male character of the film, so I appreciated the fact that they at least tried to balance the female v male dynamic. I liked Speeler’s reaction shots to the events that were happening around, and, although he didn’t have much to do in the film, I welcomed his presence. If you want to see more of his work, may I suggest the film Plastic.

A few notable actors provided voices for CGI characters, including Alan Rickman as the Caterpillar/Butterfly – I’ve always enjoyed listening to his voice and this film was no exception. I also appreciated the fact that the feature was dedicated to his memory. Stephen Fry voiced the Cheshire Cat and Michael Sheen voiced the White Rabbit alongside a bunch of other actors. Nothing really stood out as exceptional voice work: some characters sounded cool and interesting, while others had quite annoying voices.

Music

The two songs from the soundtrack that I think I’ll listen again are White Rabbit performed by Pink as well as the original song that she has written for the motion picture – Just Like Fire.

In general, Alice Through The Looking Glass was an okay film. It had a lot of flaws in all aspects, but it still somewhat entertained me.

P.S. Sorry if this review is not that great, I’m writing it in an airport, after not sleeping for more than 24 hours.

Rate: 2.5/5

Trailer: Alice Through The Looking Glass trailer

zJWWipA

 

 

Advertisements

Movie review: Eye in the Sky

Movie reviews

Hello!

I’ve just come back from the cinema, after watching one of the best movies I have seen this year or possibly ever and I can’t wait to talk about it. Without further ado, let’s discuss the war drama/thriller – Eye in the Sky.

IMDb summary: Col. Katherine Powell, a military officer in command of an operation to capture terrorists in Kenya, sees her mission escalate when a girl enters the kill zone triggering an international dispute over the implications of modern warfare.

SPOILER ALERT

Writing: story and themes

Eye in the Sky’s script was written by Guy Hibbert, who has mainly created screenplays for TV movies. The story that he crafted for this film as well as the dialogue, which was used to tell this story, was truly spectacular. The film doesn’t have any action (almost) in the literal sense of the word, but it is still extremely engaging and suspenseful.

The movie is set during a wartime – in the midst of the contemporary war, where armies are replaced by drones and computers. Nonetheless, the aforementioned modern technologies are still operated by military individuals. I do not think that we have seen many films about the practices of modern warfare, and since this issue is very important to all present and future generations, it’s about time that mainstream movies began contributing to the conversation or at least helped to kickstart the discussion.

Eye in the Sky opened with a quote by the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus: In war, truth is the first casualty. To my mind, this quote was a tiny bit misleading, because the movie dealt more with the questions of ethics rather than truth. On the other hand, truth and morality are too closely related or even intertwined value and the loss of one of them, results in the loss of the other as well.

Eye in the Sky succeeded in portraying the story of a single mission not only in an entertaining but in also realistic way: it showed how many parties (located in different countries and time zones all around the globe) are actually involved in making a decision – it was an example of true democracy – a good kind of democracy. However, it also showed the inefficiency of liberal democracy at times like these and people’s inability to make the important decisions. But can we really blame the officials who tried to avoid the responsibility when the stakes were this high – human lives were at risk. Nonetheless, maybe the officials who were avoiding the important decisions were doing this for personal reasons (so as to avoid possible culpability) rather than ethical ones?

Not only did the movies explored the process of decision making but it also touched upon the question of modern war propaganda (possibility of the footage being leaked). It also asked the viewers to considered the worthiness of human life. Lastly, Eye in the Sky showed the psychological effects on people who actually have to make the decision and, more importantly, execute it. In the end, military and army officials are still people, who are only doing their job.

Eye in the Sky was also a very emotional movie, and the end credits of the motion picture only increased the overall emotional impact of the film. I do not remember the last time I cried in a movie and this film definitely made me tear up.

The only thing that took me out of the picture’s story a tiny bit were the bird and bug drones. They seemed too futuristic to me and were a little unbelievable. However, I do not know whether this type of technology really exists. If it does, then I am really scared about the level of surveillance that we, as a species, have already reached.

Directing: visuals and sound

Eye in the Sky was directed by Gavin Hood, who has previously won an Oscar for the film Tsotsi (Best Foreign Language Film in 2006). However, Hood’s last two films (before Eye in the Sky) were X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Ender’s Game. I did not enjoy these two films and I do not believe that a lot of people did. However, I feel that Hood has at least partially redeemed himself with Eye in the Sky. Although the film’s plot was mostly very spatially confined, the shots were never too dense or too repetitive. The visuals of the drone, as well as the footage of the various computers, were also extremely believable. The cinematography by Haris Zambarloukos (Mamma Mia! (ultimate guilty pleasure film), ThorLockeJack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and Cinderella) was really nice as well. Lastly, the music by Paul Hepker and Mark Kilian was also very haunting and a perfect fit for the film.

Moreover, one of the film’s producers was actor Colin Firth (Kingman(!))- I actually did not know that, in addition to acting, he produced movies. Did you?

Acting

The film had a huge ensemble cast and I would even go as far as to say that this probably is one of my favorite ensemble movies in recent memory. Everest was probably the last ensemble movie that I really enjoyed.

So, the film’s cast consisted of Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman, Barkhad Abdi, Jeremy Northam, Iain Glen, Phoebe Fox, Armaan Haggio, Aisha Takow, Richard McCabe, Carl Beukes, Kim Engelbrecht and the director Gavin Hood himself. I won’t be able to talk about all the actors in this list, but I will try my best to discuss at least a few of them.

To begin with, I loved the fact that Helen Mirren’s character was the one calling the shots. Film’s don’t tend to focus on female military officers, so that was a nice change. I also loved how determined and relentless her character was. Mirren is an extremely accomplished actress and I am embarrassed to say that I have only seen her most recent films, like Trumbo, The Hundred-Foot Journey and Woman in Gold. I also would like to watch The Queen in which Miller plays… well… the Queen (for the 4th time).

Breaking Bad’s alumni Aaron Paul is probably fairing a bit better that his past co-star Bryan Cranston (I see Paul in more movies than Cranston). I really liked Paul in the role in Eye in the Sky – he didn’t do much bodily acting but his facial expressions were magnificent. Earlier this year, I saw Aaron in Triple 9 and I have also reviewed a few of his films from 2014 – Need for Speed and A Long Way Down.

Alan Rickman also started in Eye in the Sky. It was quite a bitter-sweet feeling, seeing him in the film, since I will dearly miss him as an actor. I grew up with him as Snape in Harry Potter films and only yesterday watched him in 1995’s Sense and Sensibility. Eye in the Sky was Rickman’s last physical role and, once again, he proved what an amazing actor he was (and will remain in our minds). I wonder whether the scenes, where his character was buying that doll, were meant to show his human side or whether it symbolized his indifference to all children. His character did seem kinda ruthless, especially with the shiver-inducing deliverance of his last line Never tell a soldier that he doesn’t know the cost of war. Later this year, we will hear Rickman in his last role (overall) in the Alice sequel.

Barkhad Abdi, who burst onto the scene a few years ago with Captain Phillips, was also really good in the role. Game of Thrones’s Iain Glen also had a few scenes that were intended to be funny and I don’t really know if that comic relief was necessary – it felt out of place. Lastly, Aisha Takow played the little girl, whose presence in the film made the biggest emotional impact, and I think that she did a nice job.

All in all, Eye in the Sky was an extremely engaging film, which showed the complexities of war and raised questions of morality and ethics. The answers to these moral and ethical dilemmas were not fully given by the film or its characters, but it encouraged the members of the audience to make up their own minds. The directing, the cinematography and the music of the film all worked together to created a highly compelling feature, which was brought to life by an amazing and extensive cast.

Rate: 4.9/5

Trailer: Eye in the Sky trailer

EITS-INTL