Skip to main content

I once believed I could do as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

Alice Through the Looking Glass
(2016)

(SPOILERS) Alice Through the Looking Glass isn’t quite the turkey its critical and box office reception might suggest; it’s certainly more engaging than the torpid Tim Burton original, which rode the crest of Avatar’s coattails to $1bn worldwide on the strength of post-conversion 3D . But, and this is a big but, the motivation motoring this sequel is a real bust, and it means that, for all that some elements absolutely work (Sacha Baron Cohen, perhaps surprisingly given recent form), it entirely lacks the emotional underpinning and pay-off it should. This is largely down to one entirely misjudged ingredient: Johnny Depp.


Or rather, the Mad Hatter. I’m not as down on Depp’s recent career as most (or everyone, if you believe the Internet) seem to be, but the Mad Hatter in the 2010 Alice in Wonderland was an outright stinker as far as the actor’s penchant for eccentric turns go. Up there with his high-pitched Willy Wonka. The problem is only reinforced here, as the emotional journey (literally) is all about him. But the Hatter is inherently unsympathetic, unfunny, and unappealing. His lost family is only important because Alice invests them with importance – no one discussing the matter is able to conjure a shred of conviction about how vital they are   but even given the first film, or because of it, the depth of feeling she holds for the Hatter is mystifying. About the only time the character’s fey English eccentricity proves remotely interesting is when Depp knocks it on the head and briefly turns malignantly Scottish.


So Alice sets off on a quest to recover his kin, which requires her going back through time. And still we wonder why she’s bothering. There’s something of a Shrek Forever After quality to this reflective journeying, by way of Back to the Future Part II, but the passages involving younger versions of the regulars, the Queens et al, aren’t especially captivating, merely a means to assemble familiar faces, albeit with the years pushed back (yet more of the current rage in CGI botox, this time servicing Helena Bonham-Carter).


The quest for the Chronosphere is introduced via some desperately unconvincing and half-arsed exposition, but as soon as Sacha Baron Cohen strolls on the scene, for all the world sounding like ‘Allo ‘Allo’s “French” policeman (if there’s a big screen version, and why not given the rip-roaring success of Dad’s Army, the makers will know who to call), the picture perks up. Time is eccentric, likeable, odd, stupid, threatening, appealing in all the ways the Hatter simply isn’t. Most tellingly so in the one Hatter scene that really works, as Time sits in at a tea party, and the comedy shenanigans’ success are entirely thanks to Cohen’s flawless comic timing.


He’s even wise in a bumbling sort of way (“Young lady, you cannot change the past, but I dare say you might learn something from it”), and something approaching wit surfaces during these sequences (written by Linda Woolverton again, she does better this time); giving chase to Alice, the literal Time implores “You cannot win in a race against Time. Come back. I am inevitable”.


As such, we easily side with Time in respect of Alice’s reckless, selfish (really, since she imperils everyone and is “changing natural law”) desire to help the Hatter; it’s thus appropriate that, come the climax, her scene with Time is resonant in ways the makers surely hoped the Hatter being reunited with his family would be. She says sorry, and even his “and please, do not come back” has the right edge of kindly forcefulness.


Alice is no more successfully established than in the original, so again it’s down to Mia Wasikowska to imbue her with life. The business with Alice becoming a sea captain just doesn’t deliver; it’s the kind of slightly inane female empowerment theme Hollywood thinks will simply because it’s a positive sentiment, rather than because it’s well thought out or motivated. And the interlude in an asylum, where Sherlock’s Moriarty attempts to “fix her” (“Text book case of female hysteria”) may not be alarming, but that’s because the picture doesn’t stand still long enough for the implications to sink in.


But mother Lindsay Duncan’s eventual siding with her daughter actually does have some charge (“Alice can do what she chooses, and so can I”), although it helps that bad guy Leo Bill is such a frightful stinker. I see one review opined “What does this have to do with Lewis Carroll?” Well, since there are no implications of repressed paedophilia in the plot, perhaps that’s no bad thing.


The amount of appropriation from Terry Gilliam is most noticeable, though, even if the results aren’t fit to shines his shoes. From the fixation on Alice not becoming an appropriate, responsibility-bound adult (“This is a child’s dream, Alice”) to the plundering of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen the cogs and sprockets of Time recall the also batty King of the Moon, and the old hatter growing younger before the eyes of the female protagonist is exactly what happened to Baron Anais – you can see the director’s influence on Hollywood, even if he can’t catch a break there.


The director is no Gilliam, though, and the screenplay is both too ungainly and too schematised to settle into something truly involving. James Bobin’s flat, single-plane approach doesn’t matter too much, given how virtually, CGI heavy the whole thing is, and given that his predecessor isn’t exactly the most expressive of auteurs when it comes to camera movements, but it adds to the sense that this is a picture made without much genuine inspiration. It was a cash grab with a third-tier guy calling the shots, or being directed to by the corporate bods.


Alice Through the Looking Glass’ gross hasn’t been sufficient to offset its cost (it made less than a third of the original, although reportedly cost a wee bit less), although it will surely break even and more in ancillaries. But it’s an unnecessary sequel to an uncalled for original that no one especially loved and no one was looking for more of (in terms of which, it’s gross is probably the best that could realistically have been expected). Now what Disney should have done, was take a chance on Tron 3.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Mondo bizarro. No offence man, but you’re in way over your head.

The X-Files 8.7: Via Negativa I wasn’t as down on the last couple of seasons of The X-Files as most seemed to be. For me, the mythology arc walked off a cliff somewhere around the first movie, with only the occasional glimmer of something worthwhile after that. So the fact that the show was tripping over itself with super soldiers and Mulder’s abduction/his and Scully’s baby (although we all now know it wasn’t, sheesh ), anything to stretch itself beyond breaking point in the vain hope viewers would carry on dangling, didn’t really make much odds. Of course, it finally snapped with the wretched main arc when the show returned, although the writing was truly on the wall with Season 9 finale The Truth . For the most part, though, I found 8 and 9 more watchable than, say 5 or 7. They came up with their fair share of engaging standalones, one of which I remembered to be Via Negativa .

You have done well to keep so much hair, when so many’s after it.

Jeremiah Johnson (1972) (SPOILERS) Hitherto, I was most familiar with Jeremiah Johnson in the form of a popular animated gif of beardy Robert Redford smiling and nodding in slow zoom close up (a moment that is every bit as cheesy in the film as it is in the gif). For whatever reason, I hadn’t mustered the enthusiasm to check out the 1970s’ The Revenant until now (well, beard-wise, at any rate). It’s easy to distinguish the different personalities at work in the movie. The John Milius one – the (mythic) man against the mythic landscape; the likeably accentuated, semi-poetic dialogue – versus the more naturalistic approach favoured by director Sydney Pollack and star Redford. The fusion of the two makes for a very watchable, if undeniably languorous picture. It was evidently an influence on Dances with Wolves in some respects, although that Best Picture Oscar winner is at greater pains to summon a more sensitive portrayal of Native Americans (and thus, perversely, at times a more patr

You’re a disgrace, sir... Weren’t you at Harrow?

Our Man in Marrakesh aka Bang! Bang! You’re Dead (1966) (SPOILERS) I hadn’t seen this one in more than three decades, and I had in mind that it was a decent spy spoof, well populated with a selection of stalwart British character actors in supporting roles. Well, I had the last bit right. I wasn’t aware this came from the stable of producer Harry Alan Towers, less still of his pedigree, or lack thereof, as a sort of British Roger Corman (he tried his hand at Star Wars with The Shape of Things to Come and Conan the Barbarian with Gor , for example). More legitimately, if you wish to call it that, he was responsible for the Christopher Lee Fu Manchu flicks. Our Man in Marrakesh – riffing overtly on Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana in title – seems to have in mind the then popular spy genre and its burgeoning spoofs, but it’s unsure which it is; too lightweight to work as a thriller and too light on laughs to elicit a chuckle.

You know what I sometimes wish? I sometimes wish I were ordinary like you. Ordinary and dead like all the others.

Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964) (SPOILERS) Bryan Forbes’ adaptation of Mark McShane’s 1961’s novel has been much acclaimed. It boasts a distinctive storyline and effective performances from its leads, accompanied by effective black-and-white cinematography from Gerry Turpin and a suitably atmospheric score from John Barry. I’m not sure Forbes makes the most of the material, however, as he underlines Séance on a Wet Afternoon ’s inherently theatrical qualities at the expense of its filmic potential.

I tell you, it saw me! The hanged man’s asphyx saw me!

The Asphyx (1972) (SPOILERS) There was such a welter of British horror from the mid 60s to mid 70s, even leaving aside the Hammers and Amicuses, that it’s easy to lose track of them in the shuffle. This one, the sole directorial effort of Peter Newbrook (a cameraman for David Lean, then a cinematographer), has a strong premise and a decent cast, but it stumbles somewhat when it comes to taking that premise any place interesting. On the plus side, it largely eschews the grue. On the minus, directing clearly wasn’t Newbrook’s forte, and even aided by industry stalwart cinematographer Freddie Young (also a go-to for Lean), The Aspyhx is stylistically rather flat.

A ship is the finest nursery in the world.

A High Wind in Jamaica (1965) (SPOILERS) An odd one, this, as if Disney were remaking The Swiss Family Robinson for adults. One might perhaps have imagined the Mouse House producing it during their “Dark Disney” phase. But even then, toned down. After all, kids kidnapped by pirates sounds like an evergreen premise for boy’s own adventuring (more girl’s own here). The reality of Alexander Mackendrick’s film is decidedly antithetical to that; there’s a lingering feeling, despite A High Wind in Jamaica ’s pirates largely observing their distance, that things could turn rather nasty (and indeed, if Richard Hughes’ 1929 novel  had been followed to the letter, they would have more explicitly). 

The best thing in the world for the inside of a man or a woman is the outside of a horse.

Marnie (1964) (SPOILERS) Hitch in a creative ditch. If you’ve read my Vertigo review, you’ll know I admired rather than really liked the picture many fete as his greatest work. Marnie is, in many ways, a redux, in the way De Palma kept repeating himself in the early 80s only significantly less delirious and… well, compelling. While Marnie succeeds in commanding the attention fitfully, it’s usually for the wrong reasons. And Hitch, digging his heels in as he strives to fashion a star against public disinterest – he failed to persuade Grace Kelly out of retirement for Marnie Rutland – comes entirely adrift with his leads.

My Doggett would have called that crazy.

The X-Files 9.4: 4-D I get the impression no one much liked Agent Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish), but I felt, for all the sub-Counsellor Troi, empath twiddling that dogged her characterisation, she was a mostly positive addition to the series’ last two years (of its main run). Undoubtedly, pairing her with Doggett, in anticipation of Gillian Anderson exiting just as David Duchovny had – you rewatch these seasons and you wonder where her head was at in hanging on – made for aggressively facile gender-swapped conflict positions on any given assignment. And generally, I’d have been more interested in seeing how two individuals sympathetic to the cause – her and Mulder – might have got on. Nevertheless, in an episode like 4-D you get her character, and Doggett’s, at probably their best mutual showing.

Isn’t it true, it’s easier to be a holy man on the top of a mountain?

The Razor’s Edge (1984) (SPOILERS) I’d hadn’t so much a hankering as an idle interest in finally getting round to seeing Bill Murray’s passion project. Partly because it seemed like such an odd fit. And partly because passion isn’t something you tend to associate with any Murray movie project, involving as it usually does laidback deadpan. Murray, at nigh-on peak fame – only cemented by the movie he agreed to make to make this movie – embarks on a serious-acting-chops dramatic project, an adaptation of W Somerset Maugham’s story of one man’s journey of spiritual self-discovery. It should at least be interesting, shouldn’t it? A real curio? Alas, not. The Razor’s Edge is desperately turgid.

Just wait. They’ll start listing side effects like the credits at the end of a movie.

Contagion  (2011) (SPOILERS) The plandemic saw Contagion ’s stock soar, which isn’t something that happens too often to a Steven Soderbergh movie. His ostensibly liberal outlook has hitherto found him on the side of the little people (class action suits) and interrogating the drugs trade while scrupulously avoiding institutional connivance (unless it’s Mexican institutional connivance). More recently, The Laundromat ’s Panama Papers puff piece fell fall flat on its face in attempting broad, knowing satire (in some respects, this is curious, as The Informant! is one of Soderbergh’s better-judged films, perhaps because it makes no bones about its maker’s indifference towards its characters). There’s no dilution involved with Contagion , however. It amounts to a bare-faced propaganda piece, serving to emphasise that the indie-minded director is Hollywood establishment through and through. This is a picture that can comfortably sit alongside any given Tinseltown handwringing over the Wa