Alice: Throught the Looking Glass

Alice was… Ok.

Synopsis:

After slipping through a mirror, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) finds herself back in Underland with the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit, Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Her friends tell her that the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is in a funk over the loss of his family. Hoping to save his loved ones, Alice steals the Chronosphere from Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) to travel into the past. While there, she encounters the younger Hatter and the evil Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter).

Rating: PG For Fantasy Action/Peril and some language

Excitement Level: Moderate

First off, it has nothing to do with the actual book “Alice Throught the Looking Glass”. Alice just happens to get to Underland (Wonderland) through a mirror. I’m ok with that though. While I highly recommend reading the Lewis Carrol classics, they aren’t exactly Hollywood storyline material. So this is the storyline they came up with to fit the Hollywood story fits enough.
Of course, it is the continuation of the Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” that came out a few years ago. I only ever saw that one in theaters, but from what I remember, I like that one better than this one. But I honestly really only remember the characters from that movie, not the storyline. Knowing the characters was enough to pick up what was going on in this one, however.

It starts out a little bit confusing, mostly due to the previews.  In the previews, it shows Alice in an asylum. I mean, I had gotten the impression that that was the setting, and she escapes the Asylum to go to Wonderland. So when the movie starts out in a ship in the high seas, running from pirates. Words to the effect of “It’s Impossible! We should surrender to the Pirates” and Alice’s reply of “You know my feelings on that word!” And then they pull off the impossible kind of make it seem like this is some sort of mad dream or fantasy of Alice’s, hence she’s been put in an asylum.

It’s not. Apparently Alice is really the captain of a ship doing impossible things. So make sure you start out on the right foot.

Alice returns from her year long fantastical voyage to a mother who has been worried sick and a shipping company who was expecting her months ago. None of this phases her; she just wants to go out and sail again. But problems with this plan arise from old grievances, a world that cannot tolerate a strong, confidant young woman, and a mother who wants the best for her daughter, but the daughter and her do not agree on what is best.

These are all good themes, and stereotypes worth challenging. But instead of facing those problems in this world, Alice runs off to Underland, led by Absalom voiced by Alan Rickman (which was a little jolting and terribly sad. You will be missed, Alan).

Underland is facing the mirror problem: The Mad Hatter has gone sane and it is just about killing him. The rest of the inhabitants of Underland want the Mad Hatter back. But Hatter has become obsessed with finding his family who was killed by the Red Queen years ago. Which of course is impossible. Alice tells him so. And Hatter goes into a fury, saying that the real Alice, his true friend, would believe him and help him.

Enter Time Travel, and the rest of the movie. I’ll leave off on the plot right there (will talk more later, in a Spoiler section) and take a look at the other qualities of this film.

Acting: Of course the acting is great. It has a powerhouse of actors. I have absolutely no qualms about the acting. Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Mia Wasikowska, Anne Hathaway, and really everyone else did a superb job,  just as they did in Alice in Wonderland. But there is someone new to this movie that deserves above and beyond recognition and notice:

Sacha Baron Cohen as Time Himeself. He might challenge Johnny Depp himself for the breadth and depth of the roles he plays. He is truly a gifted actor, and I REALLY WISH he would do some movies that I actually had any interested in seeing. In case you don’t know, he is most famous for movies like Borat, Bruno, and the Dictator. But he also did an amazing job in Sweeney Todd as Pirelli, and in Les Miserables as Thernadier. The man can sing and act. But for reasons best known to him, he prefers to do incredibly inappropriate movies.

His performance as Time was out of this world though.  I wish I could adequately describe it. He WAS time personified. You didn’t think about the actor underneath. He was fascinating and a joy to watch. The writers hit the nail on the head with the character, and Cohen completely brought Time to life.

Characters: Every iteration of Alice in Wonderland has always had fantastical characters who are larger (and smaller) than life and quite mad. I remember loving the characters in the first movie. But for some reason they really grated on me this go around. Maybe because they weren’t novel anymore. Or maybe I’ve *gasp* grown up some. But the complete lack of responsibility in almost all of the characters really irked me. Alice straight up runs from her responsibilities in the real world to Underworld. In Underworld everyone, including the White Queen, want Alice to mess with time and the fabric of reality to try and make Hatter mad again.

SPOILER WARNING

Themes/Importance: This movie really tried to tackle some very important themes, and I’ll give them A for Effort. Themes they tried to tackle were: Familial Loyalty. Following your heart vs reality, What it means to be a true friend, achieving the impossible, Asking and giving forgiveness, the means don’t justify the end, and overall girl power.

I really wish I could say that they did a better job at delivering on them. The problem is, they bit off more than they could chew, and their storyline required the characters to wade upstream of the morals they were trying to present, and required one particular theme to be placed in prominence, that being “What it means to be a true friend”.

Don’t get me wrong, being a true friend is something that is great to teach. Too many people and even children, are backstabbers and petty, only thinking of what they can get out of a friendship. But it is also dangerous to push the idea that friendship trumps all else.

True friends are amazing, and can save a life in a crisis. But here is the situuation: Hatter saw his family die years ago. But then he finds a little paper hat he made for his father in the dirt, and now believes they must be alive, and tells Alice that she must find them. When Alice tries to explain that is impossible, he becomes furious and claims Alice is not his friend, that the real Alice would believe him. Heartbroken, Alice and the others decide that the only thing to do is to travel back in time to try and save Hatter’s family.

This involves borrowing the Chronosphere from Time. Problem: Time tells Alice point blank that A) You cannot change the past, only learn from it. And B) The Chronospere powers the Grand Clock. The Grand Clock powers Time itself. And Time Himself. So using the Chronospere has the potential to destroy everything. But to Alice this is an acceptable risk, because her friend needs her.

Personally, I am not ok with teaching children this. In my opinion, a true friend would help Hatter come to terms with his grief and loss, not justify stealing and performing acts that could kill everyone. The ends do not justify the means.

They do try to address this in the very end. Alice does admits to Time that she should have never stolen the Chronosphere. But only after Alice and Hatter get what they want. It is hollow words.

I do love the moral themes that take place between the White and Red Queen; owning up to one’s mistakes and asking for forgiveness. That was done quite well, if late. And better late than never

The most clever part of this movie, which you miss if you aren’t actually analyzing it, is that the real world and Underworld — Alice and the Hatter — Mirror each other. Alice wants nothing to do with her mother and doesn’t want to become like her. Hatter wants to prove he belongs in his family, and wants them back. They find their salvation, in each other. Through the Looking Glass… Mirror Problems and solutions.

I suppose this movie is fun enough. And if you were in love with Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland you’re probably going to want to see it anyways. If you’re on the fence, I’d say the tipping point is whether you’re the type of person who is willing to see a movie because one actor’s performance is amazing, then go. If you need the majority of a movie to be on point, then skip this one.

SCORE

Acting: 2/3

Characters: 1/3

Storytelling 1/3

Visual Effects: 3/3

Humor: 1/3

Importance: 1/4

TOTAL SCORE: 9/19

Burnt – Emotions. Friends. Enemies. Kitchen. Emotions Again. Burn em all.

Burnt — I know the movie came out a long time ago. But I am such a terrible procrastinator. I may never make it as a critic, because I can’t be timely about anything. But hey, we are well past the age that if you don’t see it in theaters you will never have a chance to see it again. And I don’t want to be stuck reviewing only new releases anyways. If there is a movie I think worth watching, even if it is 10 years old, I might review it.

Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) was once a top chef in Paris until drugs and alcohol led to a meltdown that put his career on hold. After moving from New Orleans to London, Adam gets a shot at redemption when his former maitre d’ (Daniel Brühl) reluctantly hires him as the head chef of his fine-dining restaurant. Demanding perfection from his newly formed staff (Sienna Miller, Omar Sy), the acerbic and temperamental Jones gets a second chance to fulfill his dream of earning a third Michelin star.

Initial Excitement Level: Moderate-Low

Rating: R, for language throughout
Truthfully, I just wanted to watch a movie, and didn’t want to rewatch anything. I have mixed feelings about Bradley Cooper. He has been an acquired taste for me. The first two movies I saw him in were Valentines Day and Limitless, and he was such a sleaze-bag in both of them that my mind decided that he was a sleaze-bag himself (same reason I have a hard time with Amanda Seyfried, after seeing her as the dumb blond in Mean Girls). But overall, I only ever go to the movies with an open mind and ready to be entertained.

And it was amazing. Several of us sitting in the audience actually stopped and talked about how good it was in the hall. We did not know each other. We just needed to express our feelings right then.

BUT

Here is the thing. It gets horrible reviews online. 27% Rotten Tomatoes. 2 out of 5 stars. I have long since accepted that I am easier to please than most critics Or maybe I just look for and place emphasis on differentt things. All I can tell you is what I think and why. But be warned, the normal critics disagree.
Review

It starts in an interesting place. Adam Jones (the main character) has already burned every bridge in his life. And he has already a long way into overcoming his drug addictions. While there are mentions of his messed up past throughout the whole movie, we never see it. No flashbacks or anything. Which I think is a great storytelling decision. There are a lot of movies where we see both the destruction and the redemption process. But this story didn’t need it. Instead we start with him trying to not quite repair his dreams, but redo them. And instead of starting fresh, he pulls together his kitchen staff from the people he burned before and some undiscovered talent, using a combination of coercion, bribery, and slinging a thin rope across a the canyon he burned hhis bridges over. Needless to say, it is a precarious and volatile situation. 

And while I know nothing about how a kitchen works, If the show is any indication, it’s can be a precarious and volatile place as well.

They set the stage to explode. And it kind of does. Multiple times. And in ways that completely blindside you. In fact, the audience gasped out loud in several places. 
Overall the themes of love and hate, friendship, betrayal, revenge, passion, and discovering true redemption make this a drama that kept and held my utmost attention and shocked me more than a few times. And it is so well told. It is nice to have the director and writers assume that the audience is intelligent enough to connect the dots and make inferences about the story without having to be explicitly told everything. Mundane details are better left to the imagination than being hashed out.
Characters: 2/3

Acting: 2/3

Drama: 3/3

Importance: 2/3

Humor: 1/1

Storytelling. 3/3

Score – 13/16

Pan – The Origin Story… or Alternate Universe?

Here goes my first movie review. I have a feeling it is going to take a couple of these until I settle into figuring out how I want to do these in general, what details I want to talk about, what order to put things, etc. This post mostly has what I wanted to talk about. A good reviewer should probably be concerned with what readers want to know. But I’m doing this mostly for me. Because I like dissecting movies. I don’t need anyone to read it. But I like writing it down.
There might be spoilers. Read at your own risk.
Synopsis:

Living a bleak existence at a London orphanage, 12-year-old Peter (Levi Miller) finds himself whisked away to the fantastical world of Neverland. Adventure awaits as he meets new friend James Hook (Garrett Hedlund) and the warrior Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara). They must band together to save Neverland from the ruthless pirate Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). Along the way, the rebellious and mischievous boy discovers his true destiny, becoming the hero forever known as Peter Pan.

Initial Excitement Level: Moderately High.

I love all things Peter Pan (except the Disney animated one. I have hated that one since I was kid). I love themes and symbolism of the story. I also love prequels and origin stories. And this rendition has two actors I was really excited to see: Hugh Jackman as the main villain Blackbeard, and Garrett Hedlund as James Hook (not exactly a household name like Jackman, but I loved him as Patrocles in Troy, and Sam Flynn in Tron). And these actors were meant to play the villains (and personally, I’d much rather have interesting and well-acted villains than heroes.) So all in all, I went into the movie with high expectations.

I was disappointed.

Right at the beginning, an unknown female narrator says,

I’m going to tell you a story about a boy who would never grow up. About a Pirate who wished to kill him. About the island where fairies lived. But this isn’t the story you’ve heard before. Because sometimes friends begin as enemies, and enemies begin as friends. Sometimes to truly understand how things end, you must first know how they begin.

Not a bad intro. Except for the fact that it is COMPLETELY misleading. It promises a lot about the coming story. The only one it comes through on is this is definitely not a story any of us have heard before. Well, except it is, because it uses the oldest tropes and themes in the book (and I don’t mean J.M. Barry’s book)

I’m not entirely sure where to start.
The acting is… good (imagine me saying that tentatively and hesitantly). I mean, there are so many problems with the portrayal of characters, but the fault does not lie with the actors. It lies with the director and the creators of the film. Newcomer Levi Miller played his part well. Hugh Jackman will always put out an amazing performance. Rooney Mara (besides being white) was maybe a bit stiff, but the character can get away with it. It’s hard to know if Garrett Hedlund did well or not, because his character was so far off of what it should have been.

I will say that Neverland is about exactly what it should be. Wildly colorful, fantastic beasts, pirates and Indians at each other’s throats. Beautiful Mermaids, and Giant Crocodiles that would make any pirate duly afraid for life and limb. In short, a little boy’s dream and an adult’s nightmare. Which is what Neverland always was. Sometimes the Visual FX become overbearing and gharish. But Neverland is by and far the best part about this movie.

But overall, this movie violently bounces back and forth between ridiculously overtly “Peter Pan” and jarringly unfamiliar and confusing.
In fact, I spent a lot of time noticing how “Pan” seemed to directly rip off basically every other Peter Pan story ever told (Especially “Hook”), and I’m in a bit of a grey area deciding whether that is a bad thing or not. You’re dealing with same story being retold half a dozen times, after all. I can see how the director would want to build off what was already there instead of reinventing the wheel. Except for the fact that the director tried to both reinvent the wheel and use existing framework.

For instance: There were a lot of interesting choices made with the Indians (even completely passing over Tiger Lily being white). There is an overt “Peter Pan” feel with this group, but not necessarily in the right way. When the pirates attack and kill an Indian, they turn into… a brightly colored puff of smoke? Hook is forced into a death match with their hero (they made sure to make it quite clear that the loser dies) on… trampolines? And as this hero is showing off he strikes this pose: movies-pan-10092015-videoLarge
I’m not sure why, but for some reason I found this incredibly reminiscent of Peter Pan in general (help me out, is this a pose Peter strikes in any other rendition?). All these things totally have a Neverland vibe. The problem, though, is that these particular effects really apply better to the Lost Boys (from Hook), with the brightly colored mud and food fights, fighting that is closer to playing, and full-of-himself hero. Seriously. I almost expected the Indians to start chanting “Rufio, Rufio. Ru-Fi-OOO!”

The Pirates were also… interesting. I’m not entirely sure why some of them looked like clowns. And I am really not sure why they made the slave boys sing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Blitzkrieg Bop”.

Then you’ve got Blackbeard (put on brilliantly by Jackmon, no arguments there) himself. Who is Captian Hook in all but name… and hook.Slightly psychotic. Slightly gentlemanly. Supreme pirate ruler of his domain. Afraid of Crocodiles, Time, and Dying. He even steals several of Hook’s iconic lines (“Bad form” “Are you here to kill me, Peter?”). Why make a new villain (with a real villain’s name) who acts exactly like the classic villain? This decision might make sense if Hook actually spent any sort of significant time around Blackbeard, so it could be sold as Hook learning from him. But he doesn’t.

And speaking of Hook… Why does he act like Han Solo dressed as Indian Jones with a Jack Nicholson smile? (Seriously, he is exactly like Han. falls in with the heroes almost on accident, only cares about his own bottom line, not the fight for what is right. And a moment of redemption at the end. He is completely unrecognizable. Nothing Peter Pan-ish about him. The writers could have easily given him another name and it wouldn’t mess up the story at all. Which is a problem since this is supposed to be the origin story of Peter Pan and Captain Hook.

*Sidenote* Smee is perfect. Perfectly casted. Perfectly acted. And the role he played and the relationship he has with Hook makes perfect sense and answers how the cowardly, bumbling, idiot somehow got to be Hook’s first-mate. Hook might not make sense. But Smee’s relationship to him does.

And then there is Peter Pan himself. Who, like Hook, has absolutely nothing in common with the original character. Peter Pan the legend is the boy who never grew up. The boy who ran away from home as a baby. The boy who is cocky and self-sure, who believes, as all little boys do, that he is invincible.
Peter in this film is everything but. First, he comes off as the most tired rendition of two very tired tropes: The Chosen One and The Reluctant Hero. He is obsessed with finding his family. His overriding emotion is fear. Fear of heights and of flying. Fear that he can’t live up to the expectations the Indians place on his shoulders to lead them, and that he can’t fulfill prophecy that he will save the fairies (which of course he eventually shoulders his burden and does). Two things wrong with that last one. First, true Peter would play the hero for the sheer adventure of it. Second, true Peter would never be bothered by anyone’s expectations of him. That’s kinda the point. He does what he wants, because it’s fun, and refuses to take any responsibility.

Yes. I get that this is supposed to be a retelling and an origin. But the thing is, you can use creative licence to give the characters a new story. You cannot change the core of the characters themselves. Especially in a story like this, where the Story cannot exist without the Themes, and the Themes exist withing the characters themselves. Yes, in “Hook” Peter was not the classic Peter Pan. But it worked because we saw that Peter made a conscious choice to grow up, but then spent the rest of the movie trying to remember who the Pan was as a little boy, and Pan realizing why he chose to finally grow up. If you want to write an origin story, you have to lead into the existing idea. You can’t have a story about a boy coming-of-age before he becomes the child who says “I want to always be a little boy and have fun.”

I think the creators of the film were fully aware that they were changing important core elements. That they would potentially face critics who will say that this story has nothing to do with Peter Pan. So I think they tried to balance the story not being Peter Pan by making the world overtly visually Peter Pan. It wasn’t enough though. And it left way too many questions open, while a prequel is supposed to answer questions.

Summary: Let’s look back at the intro quote.  “I’m going to tell you a story about a boy who would never grow up. About a Pirate who wished to kill him. About the island where fairies lived. But this isn’t the story you’ve heard before. Because sometimes friends begin as enemies, and enemies begin as friends. Sometimes to truly understand how things end, you must first know how they begin.”
Well.
Peter did grow up. He became a leader and hero.
Hook doesn’t become a pirate, so it must mean Blackbeard. Blackbeard didn’t really wish to kill Peter. He just wanted to kill the fairies.
There were no enemies who became friends.
There were no friends who became enemies. I would have at least thought that this movie would show how Pan and Hook ended up on opposite sides. But it ends up with them both sharing a laugh on the Jolly Roger.
Seeing this beginning story doesn’t tell me how the story of Peter Pan ends. In fact, there is absolutely no attempt at reconciliation. Which to me makes this is an alternate story that takes place in Neverland, with characters who just so happen to be named Peter and Hook, not the origin story of Peter Pan and Captain Hook.

But this is in fact a story we haven’t heard before. It probably should’ve stayed that way.

Rating:
Plot: 1/3
Characters: 1/3
Acting: 2.5/3
Visual Effects: 2/3
Importance: .5/3
Score: 7/15