Wednesday, 8 June 2016

NEW RELEASES: Alice Through The Looking Glass & The Nice Guys

Alice Through The Looking Glass

(Director: James Bobin.  Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter)

Tim Burton's 2010 adaption of Alice In Wonderland was a surprise hit.  It made over $1 billion at the box office becoming the fifth highest grossing film of all time.  This puts a ridiculous amount of pressure on James Bobin, the director of it's belated sequel 'Alice Through The Looking Glass' to match people's high expectations of his films potential.  He doesn't have to worry about me though.  I have no expectations.  I fucking hated Alice In Wonderland.

Nothing to do with Lewis Carroll of course.  I hated the incoherent plotting of Burton's film.  I hated it's garish overuse of CGI.  I hated it's bizarre tonal shifts between overly twee and suddenly bleak rewordings of the story.  Most of all I hated Johnny Depp's overly mannered, irritating, unlikeable version of the Mad Hatter which I'd taken as the absolute proof that Depp had finally given up on any sort of believable acting to focus on clowning around in various ridiculous costumes.  (As one of my henchmen so beautifully put it, he's less of an actor now than an elaborate hatstand.) Shortly after watching it for the first time I joked that the previously talented Mr Burton, Mr Depp, Ms Bonham-Carter and Mr Elfman should be legally required to stay away each other on film sets in order to foster their talents in a less self-satisfied, chummy environment (of course, in 2016, Burton and Bonham-Carter's relationship has sadly ended off set instead and it's quite plausible for Depp to be court ordered to keep certain distance from someone so that comment really isn't very funny any more)

Alice Through The Looking Glass begins with a scene of (the titular) Alice commanding a ship as it sails through Chinese seas, battered by a storm and pursued by pirates (this film apparently has decided to continue that bizarre subplot from the first, suggesting that Alice might now be an international drug-trader partially responsible for the First Opium War).  Alice, of course, escapes but only through some ludicrously implausible sailing manoeuvres.  I understand that this scene is intended to show Alice's strength of will and how great a sacrifice it would be for her to risk losing her ship but it kinda ruins the films tone from the very beginning.  I always feel that a good fantasy film, unless entirely set within a fantasy world, has to first establish the drudging mundanity of normal life to act as a contrast to the magic.  If Alice is already living in a rip-roaring cartoonish 'Pirates of the Carribean'-esque world then Wonderland itself will surely pale in comparison.

Of course, the adventures in the real world don't last long as Alice's current employer (and former suitor) Hamish has dastardly plans to force Alice to settle down into a boring life on land as revenge for rejecting him. (Keeping up the cartoonish tone, Hamish is such a ridiculous caricature of pompous assholery that I'd be surprised if every second line in his scenes doesn't actually state [Hamish snorts in derision.])

Wait a minute... does anyone else think he looks
a bit like David Cameron?
So Alice escapes to Wonderland (or 'Underland' as this film prefers to call it) after being guided there by Absolem the butterfly, played by the late, great Alan (Fucking) Rickman.  Rickman's involvement was one of the most appealing factors in convincing me to watch this film and it's always a pleasure to hear his sonorous tones again on film.  However his role in this film is barely more than one brief scene to drop some necessary exposition so those hoping to see him sneer at someone with glorious contempt would be better served by last months 'Eye In The Sky' which is both a better Rickman performance and better film in general)

In fact this film returns the excellent support cast of the first film (including Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall, Stephen Fry, Matt Lucas, Barbara Windsor and Paul Whitehouse) to only have them appear all at once to do nothing more than pine over the absent Hatter.  (I doubt so many talented voices have ever been assembled to do so little)

The Hatter, it seems, has gone the bad sort of mad.  A hollow husk of his former self he is filled with despair and fits between catatonia and sudden worrying mood swings.

Posted without comment
It seems the only thing that can save him is for Alice to travel back in time and try to save his family from the fate which haunts him.  (Bizarrely the Hatter's father in all these scenes is played by Rhys Ifans, a man four years younger than his onscreen son, Depp)

And this is where our films new villain comes in.  Time, played by Sacha Baron Cohen is waiting in the wings, speaking of senseless things.  His trick is you and me, readers! 

Thankfully, he neither flexes like a whore, nor falls wanking to the floor.
Sascha Baron Cohen is arguably the films MVP giving a ridiculously OTT performance as the lord of time itself.  He is by turn buffonish, threatening and ultimately sympathetic.  He has an oddly fascinating accent which veers wildly from the pretentious French one he used in Hugo to his usual rough English brogue but (most entertainingly) for the most part it sounds like he's doing a solid impression of the hilariously nihilistic film director Werner Herzog.  Seriously, I am always happy to see some trace of Werner Herzog in my family-friendly fantasy movies.

Civilisation is like a thin layer of ice upon a deep ocean of 
chaos and darkness.  Bibbity Bobbity Boo!.
In fact the villains are the strongest part of this film overall.  Helena Bonham Carter returns as the cruel, childish Red Queen and once again it is joy to watch her sadistic guffaw every time one of film's annoying protagonists gets hurt. (Even if her performances still feels heavily indebted to Miranda Richardson's brilliant turn on Blackadder II)

The first film's other villain gets a slight nod as well as a skeleton wearing the costume of the Knave of Hearts is seen in one scene suggesting that Crispin Glover maybe once again fell out with film makers between a popular film and it's sequel.  (Although this time they thankfully didn't just hang him upside down in room of fax machines.)

The time travel plot does give the film a new sense of freshness and interest but sadly most of the films runtime is used on either scenes featuring the Hatter's infuriating shtick or a sub-plot intent on humanising the Red Queen.  The latter feels a particular waste since this can only take away from the enjoyment found watching her glorious terribleness and also because it means we spend more time with Anne Hathaway waving her right arm around in circles for no goddamn reason.

The film also suffers from some of the same tonal shifts as it's predecessor (we jump quite suddenly from scenes of the Red Queen humorously struggling to fit a crown over her enlarged head to scenes of her burning a whole village alive in vengeance).  I had hoped that James Bobin would bring some of the charm that he did to Flight of the Conchords or the recent Muppet movies (or at least give us a song by Bret McKenzie) but his style seems lost in the mix.

The central message of this film seems to be that the past cannot be altered but can be learned from.  This seems a fitting description of the film itself.  James Bobin has certainly made a film which is more focussed and coherent than the previous Alice In Wonderland, but ultimately, it cannot escape from the mistakes made in that film to really become something I could recommend as worth giving up a couple of hours of your time.

The Nice Guys

(Director: Shane Black.  Starring: Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe, Angourie Rice, Kim Basinger)

I have to say that, when first asked, the idea of going to see a film called 'The Nice Guys' did not appeal to me.  From my time spent having conversations online I have soon learned that most men who refer to themselves as 'Nice Guys' often tend to be emotionally unstable,  reactionary manchilden who throw tantrums if they aren't instantly rewarded every time they manage to act like functional adults and, worst of all, tend to think that it's acceptable to wear a brightly coloured trilbies along with their cargo shorts and stained Kid Rock t-shirts thus damning the world of pretentious hat-wearing by association.
Real men know a good hat should always be accompanied by a
matching suit and a large glass of single malt scotch.
Thankfully the title appears to be more ironic as the two leads are both self confessed assholes struggling to find some sort of integrity as they are forced into doing something good for once.  Also the film features the worlds favourite feminist sex puppy Ryan Gosling, so that should avoid any confusion.  It also features Russell Crowe, hey, Ryan Gosling!

The Nice Guys has mainly been promoting itself as a buddy movie between these two stars.  However the truly interesting partnership on show here is that of producer Joel Silver and writer/director Shane Black who jointly brought us Lethal Weapon 1 & 2, The Last Boy Scout and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.  In fact coming off of the mixed reactions to Iron Man 3 it's good to see Shane Black returning to what feels more like home turf.  In fact, The Nice Guys almost feels like a Shane Black greatest hits package since it features all of his favourite tropes from the mismatched leads working a case together, a kidnapping plot which reveals a larger conspiracy, a precocious child character,  the film industry itself being used as a setting, snappy, sarcastic voiceovers and even a brief scene set during Christmastime.

The film may have been advertised as a two hander from the two gentlemen on the poster but the central relationship of the film is the awkward three-way friendship which forms between Jackson Healy (Crowe), Holland March (Gosling) and March's young daughter played with wit and charm by newcomer actress Angourie Rice.

Even if she has a name which sounds like an
ingredient from a hipster, vegan quinoa pot.
The film is set in 1977 Los Angeles (I knew I was going to enjoy this as soon as the films title appeared in neon font to a soundtrack of slap bass and wah-wah guitars).  Ryan Gosling plays a corrupt, bumbling Private Investigator who is investigating the apparent sighting of a recently deceased pornstar.  One of his leads in the investigation doesn't want found however so hires Russell Crowe's brutish enforcer to convince him to stay away.  Of course someone else is searching for the girl for more nefarious reasons and soon our two leads are forced to join up in order to try and save her and work out what the hell they've been dragged into.

With it's neo-noir genre trappings and dark sense of humour, this film almost works as a sort of sister film to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and it will certainly appeal to fans of that film.  There are nods to L.A. Confidential too from the sleazy Hollywood setting and grim conspiracies (not to mention the fact that both films feature Crowe as well as Kim Basinger).  There's more than a little Boogie Nights too to the film's debauched 70s detail.

The film is a riot throughout.  It's exciting, witty and genuinely laugh out loud funny at times. Ryan Gosling reveals himself to be a gifted physical comedian and Russell Crowe gets his best role in years as the heavy with a hidden kindness.  They are also complimented by a solid support cast featuring the previously mentioned Kim Basinger in blunt and icy mode, an unnerving Matt Bomer and the always enjoyable Keith David (who recently leant his wry gravitas to the otherwise disappointing final season of Community.)

6 Seasons & a Movie?  I'd prefer 3 Seasons and consistent quality.
I don't want to say anything more about this film to avoid spoiling any of the jokes or clever plotting but I will wholeheartedly recommend it.  Go see The Nice Guys.  It's the most entertaining film out right now and, despite the old saying, it deserves to finish first.

1 comment :

  1. Here is a comment section for discussions relating to the above review.

    Please feel free to start conversations, debates or even vicious arguments about the above films (or anything else discussed above)

    [Please note that comments are moderated and anything deemed abusive, offensive or personal will be removed]