Monthly Archives: May 2016

“Looking Glass” is colorful yet underwhelming

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The sequel no one asked for…and it exists?

Is there really a reason for this sequel to exist? The executives at Disney feel so considering the $1 billion Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” grossed back in 2010. Truly these are different times when one judges success by the box office numbers and not public criticism. That was the old Disney way considering if it wasn’t for the polarizing reaction to “The Sword in the Stone,” we wouldn’t have gotten Walt Disney trying to make “his” version of “The Jungle Book.” On the other hand, Lewis Carol did write two books on Alice’s adventures in the strange Wonderland, so I guess a sequel is needed. However, what we got was an entry that strays farther from the source despite its good intentions to better than the first one.

Mia Wasikowska returns as the curious Alice Kingsleigh who returns from her trip to China, as depicted in an opening which appears like a scene taken from a Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Not much to say about her character as takes on a spunky attitude and sees life as an adventure. However, her family is in debt as the only means to save her mother’s home is to sell off her ship to the snooty suitor from the first movie (Leo Bill reprising his role) in a possible move of revenge on his part.

Before a deal can be struck, Alice returns to the strange world of Wonder-oh, I’m sorry- UNderland where things are brighter and more colorful compared to the dreary and murkiness of the first film. Director James Bobin (The Muppets and Muppets Most Wanted) brings a new variation of the topsy turvy world that appears more whimsical and less grim. Almost every scene has a bright blue sky and only the intense moments have darker shades of black and navy blue. While some practical sets are used, most of the effects are CGI and sadly appear more cartoony and less lifelike. Sometimes, I feel actors get lost on a green screen as opposed to making us believe something is right in front of us. Most notable is Alice’s first descend into the mirror as she takes moving chess pieces and a living tiger skin rug as a natural occurrence.

ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS

Alice tries to help her friend the Mad Hatter, who looks more like a cross between Willy Wonka and a Halloween clown

Not everyone is happy as The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is falling into a deep depression when he feels unsure if his family is alive or dead. While Depp’s performance is not heavily used like the previous movie, there’s something strange about this take her. While the Hatter in Tim’s take was wild and manic, I found myself wondering why Depp would change that here. Instead this Mad Hatter seems confused most of the time and talks in a soft lisp that feels unintentionally comedic. It’s like Jimmy Stewart trying to do an impersonation of a cartoon character.

With her best friend under sorrow, Alice decides to help out by paying a visit to Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) with plans to steal a device that can travel though the past. She believes that she can find a way to save the Hatter’s family so he won’t be under so much guilt. This is an element that was obviously not in the original book as the story of “Looking Glass” was an allegory for chess. Personally, I found the book more unique taking Alice’s journey and putting it on pair with a parlor game. It made for something unique to look into how an innocent girl’s quest to be queen can be seen this way. Unfortunately, that is no the case here. Any material from Carol’s book is tossed out to make way for something far removed from the source as Alice goes from one time period to the next as her venture serves as an excuse to see the origins of characters like the Cheshire Cat or the Queens. Even stranger is the time machine that looks exactly like it was a prop modeled after the craft in George Pal’s 1960s “Time Machine” making it weirder to see sci-fi cross with fantasy nonsense. On the other hand, a set of clock minions can mutate into giant Transformer robots, so why complain?

When “Looking Glass” is not trying to be a prequel, it revives its previous villain, The Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) with a plan to steal the time machine Alice took in order to change her sister’s past. Without giving too much, her plan only provides as an excuse for Carter to just walk about, yell obnoxiously and act like a brat as opposed to being a threat like that last film. And when you do find out what her sister, The White Queen, did to make her life so miserable, it makes one to wonder why she didn’t just apologize about it in the first place to avoid such a chaotic mess?

Honestly, I didn’t care much for this sequel and in-between the six years it took to get this into production, I would have been find without it. Characters like the March Hare, the White Rabbit, Tweedledee and Tweedledum get side-linded with minimal lines compared to how prominent they  were before. Most of the cast feels like they showed up for a paycheck considering the three lines spoken by the late Alan Rickman as the Caterpiller show how disrespectful they were to the source. Why even have these characters return when they don’t even make an impact? You could have just cut them or replaced them with other characters and the movie wouldn’t change at all. Even some give off hammy and bizarre performances like Anne Hathaway who is reduced to waving her hands like ‘The Wizard of Oz’s” Glinda the Good while talking exposition in an air-headed manner.

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The sequel no one asked for…and it exists?

The only redeeming factor, surprisingly, is Sacha Baron Cohen as the new character Time, who oddly gets played up like a villain when he doesn’t even intend to be mean that way. True, he does monitor those who kick the bucket and lives in a dark castle, but Cohen’s performance saves this character from being a one-note creation. Time comes off as an eccentric creature that is so obsessed with timelines that even he works like a clock literally. There’s a lot of effort and creativity going into this one character which feels like a mix between a Flash Gordon villain and a Rolex watch.And while I’m not fan of Cohen’s work, I admit when he plays a side-character, there is when I feel most comfortable. Its almost like his wild energy is restrained as he knows exactly what to do with the material he gets, even if its minimal.

As for the rest of “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” there’s not much that can be said. Its a harmless sequel that tries too hard to be expansive, but doesn’t have much necessity value. Plotlines go left and right while characters either chase after each other or try to find a working motive. I also have to question there are odd times when it does have a small dose of darkness that barley goes anywhere. About midway, Alice transports into the real world to find herself trapped in a Victorian asylum without proper transition. A character explains how she ended up there as opposed to showing how she was taken. Something tells me there are missing scenes here. But if the movie is not interesting in clearing this up, than so what? Why should I care for the near death of the Mad Hatter when Alice is busy trying to mend things with the Queens, the Hatter’s family and trying to avoid destroying the fabric of time when she already has done so much damage? For a movie that crams so much and does so little to invest me into what’s happening, I tend to wonder why a raven is like a writing desk more often than the plot holes in this movie. Not the worst, but better recommended as a rental.

“Captain America: Civil War”explodes with fun and emotion

captain_america_civil_warAfter watching “The Winter Solider” right before seeing the new entry in Marvel’s line-up, I had a feeling it would be a tough act to follow-up a sequel that is edgy and asks if the famed stars and stripes superhero is a symbol of his country or something else. The idea of comparing and contrasting him and his old friend, Bucky was a unique element. How S.H.I.E.L.D was using Steve Rodgers (Chris Evans) despite giving some leeway in contrast to Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) who is so brainwashed to the point you can’t tell if he’s good or bad. “Winter Solider” was packed with plenty of action, but something felt lacking. I wanted it to go deeper into the psyche of Steve as well as where he stands in a world of superheroes. Long story short, thank goodness “Civil War exists. It easily trumps the old saying that “lightening rarely strikes twice.” And already, it’s become my 2nd favorite Marvel movie next to “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

Chris Evans returns as the thawed World War II veteran who is caught in a huge cross fire. As it turns out, the damage made in his previous Avengers victories were causing more harm than possible with lives lost during their battles. The government plans to crack down on the superhero business, but all that changes when Steve’s buddy Bucky gets in the mix. Without spoiling too much, a series of assassinations leads to the Winter Solider’s blame while Steve thinks otherwise.

This part of the story alone sets up a unique mystery that keeps us guessing to the very end. When the story is not engaged in fist-fighting, things take a back seat as we try to connect the clues behind the true mastermind. Is this Bucky’s real doing or is something else in play here? Again, without giving too much away, when we do find out the truth, the answer is satisfying and certainly shocking. Dare I say, “Civil War” has one of the most biggest twists in all of film history and already I’m in shock about how well it plays out. Rarely does my jaw drop to the floor, but this has to be one of the few moments in my life a reaction like that was needed.

As for everything else, viewers will be treated to a very serviceable and explosive summer blockbuster. Every character motive has a purpose to exist on why one is after another. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is upset over Steve’s will  to co-operate as Steve feels the country he serves is starting to not feel the same as it once was. This gives all the more reason for these two to duke it out. We’re not just interested in seeing who has the upper hand, but get reasons for why these two can’t compromise. It makes the drama more intense considering how used we are seeing Tony and Steve play off each other like close college buddies.

As for the fight scenes, they are satisfying and serviceable. Each one is well-choreographed and packs with edge. The best one is easily the brawl at the airport as Marvel characters ranging from Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) to Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) take sides with each team having equal advantages. Both have one who is inventive while another has supernatural abilities like Vision (Paul Bettany). With both sides evenly matched, it makes this fight scene the more enjoyable to watch as each one tries to outwit each other.

Surprisingly, the biggest highlight I found was not Tom Holland making his first incarnation as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Though granted, I thought he was a great fit coming off of Toby Maguire’s decent run and the disastrous Andrew Garfield (less said the better.) For me personally, the biggest thing I’m taking away is Chadwick Boseman’s performance as Black Panther. In a way, I felt like I was watching the origin of the character even if I knew little about him. His character arch fits nicely with the one of many themes about the effects of vengeance. Boseman was sleek, bold and very intimidating when it came to his moments on why he has a beef with Bucky. In a nutshell, I hope this character gets his own movie, because Boseman deserves it.

And as said before, Tom Holland is a surprisingly good fit for the web head. In hindsight, the filmmakers should have opted for a younger incarnation. Holland is able to carry the charisma as well as be crass yet likable. He isn’t annoying and I found myself laughing at every quip and joke they threw at him. Despite his purpose being nothing but an extended cameo, I am more than curious to see how well Holland does in his future solo film.

As for the rest of “Civil War,” I really can’t praise too much. Though if I did have to nitpick, the first 20 minutes are a tad slow and some odd editing choices are made (like having the name of countries be told to us in BIG WHITE LETTERS THAT SPAN ACROSS THE SCREEN.) But more curious are the allusions and references to “The Empire Strikes Back.” I don’t know if this was intentional, but I did find them interesting to be honest. Truly we get a sequel that is powerful, fun and emotionally gripping. In a way, I wish this was the movie “Batman Vs Superman” tried to be and failed in the end. “Civil War” is well written, packed with action and knows when to linger between comedy and tragedy. If you want a grand start to the summer, this is an explosive start.