Alice Through the Looking Glass

Posted on May 26, 2016 at 5:50 pm

Copyright 2016 Walt Disney Pictures
Copyright 2016 Walt Disney Pictures

“Alice Through the Looking Glass” the movie has almost no relationship to Alice Through the Looking Glass, the book by Lewis Carroll in spirit, character, or storyline. That might possibly be all right if the spirit, character, or storyline were in any way worthwhile, but it is not. Gorgeous production design and some cool stunts do not make up for a story that begins as passable and ends as painful.

Tim Burton, who produced this one, previously gave us an “Alice in Wonderland” with an adult Alice (Mia Wasikowska) replacing the little girl of the story and spending way too much time in the above-ground “real” world as she attends a party, turns down a proposal of marriage from the odious Haimish (Leo Bill), and accepts instead the offer from his father to serve as crew on a merchant ship.

In “Looking Glass,” we first see Alice, now captain of the ship, in an exciting escape from pirates that show us her courage and love of adventure. But when the ship returns to port in London, she finds that Hamish’s father has died, leaving him in charge, and he refuses to let her go back to sea. In his home, she finds a mirror over a fireplace that is a portal back to Wonderland, led by the former caterpillar, now-butterfly (voice of of the much-missed Alan Rickman).

Having already imported the talking flowers, chess pieces, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and the Jabberwocky from “Through the Looking Glass” into the first film, conflating the first story’s Queen of Hearts (the “Off with the head!” one) with the second story’s Red Queen (the chess one) this movie takes — but makes no use of — the first book’s characters like the Cheshire Cat and the White Rabbit, and then has a completely invented story about time travel.

This has many disagreeable aspects, but the worst is when it puts Sasha Baron Cohen as the embodiment of Time into a scene with Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter and allows them to try to out-grotesque each other in a manner clearly intended to be charming. It is not.

Neither is the plot, which relies heavily on just the kind of treacly heartstrings-plucking backstories that Carroll would never have allowed, asking us to feel sympathy for outrageous behavior and affection for caricatures. The first film’s attempt to create a warm, devoted friendship between Alice and the Mad Hatter was rather ooky. In the sequel, we are asked to believe that she has returned to do whatever it takes to help him because they love each other so much.

To paraphrase the folks behind “Seinfeld,” in the Alice world, there should be no hugging and no apologizing — and no heartfelt professions of affection, especially when they are not in any way justified by the characters’ history with each other.

Alice is needed on the other side of the mirror because the Mad Hatter has found something that has convinced him that his family is still alive, and not killed by the Jabberwock as he had thought. Why is this so important? Is it because he misses them so? Not really. It is because he feels bad about his behavior and needs to see them again so he can be forgiven. The disconnect between the expressions of devotion and the narcissistic reality of behavior is disturbingly cynical. Alice decides the only way she can save his family is to go back in time to the Jabberwock battle, which means she has to retrieve the chronosphere from Time himself, and that leads to more time travel as she solves various not-very-mysterious mysteries and Time chases her to get it back. Not that any of it makes any sense, logically or emotionally.

The production design is imaginative and witty, but it is buried under a gormless, hyperactive mess of a film. The book is endlessly witty and imaginative and delightful with all kinds of wordplay, math puzzles, and chess references from Carroll (aka Charles Dodgson), a math professor.  The movie wastes all of that opportunity.  Look at the title — the movie should be about a reverse world, not a heist/time travel saga that only concludes you can’t change history.  If I had the chronosphere, I’d use it to go back to the moment I sat down to watch this movie so I could go home.

Parents should know that this film has extended fantasy peril with many disturbing images, discussion of loss of parents, brief image of someone dying, and bullying.

Family discussion: If you could go back in time, what time would you pick? Why did the Hatter and the White Queen have a hard time telling their families how they felt?

If you like this, try: the many other movie Alice stories including the Disney animated version and the Kate Beckinsale version of “Through the Looking Glass” and the books by Lewis Carroll

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3D Action/Adventure Based on a book Fantasy Remake Series/Sequel


Posted on September 25, 2014 at 6:00 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some partial nudity, disturbing images and brief strong language
Profanity: Some strong language, one F-word
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Animals and humans in peril, sad animal death, references to suicide
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: September 26, 2014

tracks-movie-posterIn 1977, a 27-year-old woman named Robyn Davidson took a dog and four camels and walked 1700 miles across the Australian desert. A National Geographic photographer met up with her four times to cover it for the magazine. That led to a book, the international best-seller Tracks.  And now it is a film, starring Mia Wasikowska, with Adam Driver as photographer Rick Smolan, and directed by John Curran, whose previous films (“The Painted Veil,” “We Don’t Live Here Anymore”) show a gift for letting the environment be an essential part of the story-telling.  The result is a journey set in surroundings of punishing conditions but spectacular beauty that manages to be meditative and internal, and all the more illuminating for it.

This is the first of two movies based on soul-restoring real-life hikes taken by real-life women that we will be seeing this fall, both based on best-selling books, with Reese Witherspoon’s more high-profile “Wild” coming out December 5, 2014.  While there are flashbacks to suggest that Davidson took on the trip to deal with some family losses, in real life Davidson has not just refused to give a reason; she has insisted that it is a foolish question to ask.  She walked across Australia for the same reason that Mallory climbed Mount Everest.  “Because it’s there.”  Her version of a response: “Why not?”  It’s pretty clear why not.  It is very dangerous.  The terrain is blisteringly hot and with very little water.  If she is injured or lost, no one will be there to help her.  But she is determined to go, indenturing herself with camel dealers to learn how to train camels and earn some to take with her.  When the first one cheats her out of what is due to her, she reluctantly agrees to allow National Geographic to sponsor the trip, though it means she will have to allow Smolan to meet up with her four times to take photos.

This is not the usual travelogue, with adventures that include quirky characters, daunting dangers, and lessons learned, though all are there.  Along the way, she meets up with Aboriginal people, including one who serves as a guide for a part of the journey because it includes sacred land which she is not permitted to travel on without him.  She comes across a farmhouse, and the couple who live there welcome her in a beautifully understated manner.

You’d also expect spectacularly gorgeous and exotic scenery, and that is there, too.  And, with just one person on screen much of the time, a lot of voiceover narration, though that’s not too bad.  Most of all, this is a spiritual saga, a pilgrimage.  Davidson wanted to be alone — she admits that she is much more comfortable with animals than with people.  And she wanted to accomplish something difficult by herself.  It almost seems at moments as though we are intruding in her beautiful solitude.  But mostly, we are sharing it, and feel grateful for the privilege.

Parents should know that this film includes sad and disturbing material including suicide of a parent (off-screen) and putting down animals, dangerous activities, peril, animals shot and poisoned, some disturbing images of dead animals, some strong language (one f-word), and non-sexual nudity (female rear).

Family discussion: Why was Robyn happiest away from people? What was the hardest moment of her trip and why?

If you like this, try: other movies set in the Australian desert, including “Walkabout” and “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”

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Action/Adventure Animals and Nature Based on a book Based on a true story Drama Movies -- format

The Real Story: Tracks and Robyn Davidson’s Long Walk Across Australia

Posted on September 22, 2014 at 3:51 pm

Mia Wasikowska plays real-life adventurer Robyn Davidson in “Tracks,” based on the 1980 international best-seller about her 1700-mile walk across Australia with four camels.

A thoughtful interview with Davidson in The Australian describes her:

Davidson is an enigma. With her patrician air, prim frock and cut-glass English accent (she’s spent most of her life in London), it’s difficult to envisage her as the young woman who killed rampaging bull camels in the Australian desert, fought off rats nestling in her hair during a hellish journey with the Rabari nomads of northwest India, became a crack shot with a Savage .222 rifle, and crossed glaciers near her home in the Himalayas. She’s worked as an artist’s model and dealt blackjack in an illegal gambling den, squatted in houses and taken LSD, once having an “exquisite trip where I was Titania from A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Despite this big, adventurous life, she has described herself as “basically a dreadful coward”.

She’s whip-smart, can quote Montaigne, Levi-Strauss, Nietzsche and Novalis with the best of them, and slips easily, during our chat, from the plight of nomadic people and the slippery nature of time in a desert, to metaphysics and madness.

There’s an other-wordly, ascetic air about her: she’s described herself as a kungka rama-rama (“crazy woman” in Pitjantjatjara) and a “sausage of angel and beast”, as Chilean poet Nicanor Parra puts it. She loves a motley collection of things – silence, deserts, crows, dogs, stars (she can roll the latter off her tongue: Aldebaran, Sirius, Corvus…). I’m struck by her face, all serene planes and curves and wide Slavic cheekbones; at 62, it remains a miracle of excellent natural design. “It helps to have good scaffolding,” she concedes later during a photo shoot at Bondi, where she poses reluctantly for the camera, framed by a big blue sky and a quietly heaving sea.

Davidson told The Scotsman why she wanted to walk across the desert.

“Why? Why? Why?” Davidson laughs. “The thing that Mia said to me was that no man would be asked that. She’s absolutely right. But then perhaps if I’d been a man people wouldn’t have been so interested in the first place. Who knows? But I think that anyone who steps outside of a boundary or a cliché, it disturbs something in the culture at large so the question is, why did she do it? What does it mean that we didn’t?”

“My sense of myself is that I was a rather unformed kind of person trying to make myself up out of bits of spit and string,” is how she once described it. “Some instinct – and I think it was a correct one – led me to do something difficult enough to give my life meaning.”

Here Davidson and Wasikowska talk about the journeys they took.

And here is an interview with Davidson and National Geographic photographer Rick Smolan, played by Adam Driver in the film.

Smolan’s magnificent photos appear in From Alice to Ocean: Alone Across the Outback.

Copyright Rick Smolan and Against all Odds Productions
Copyright Rick Smolan and Against all Odds Productions
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The Real Story


Posted on August 30, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Musician Nick Cave and director John Hillcoat are Australians who are drawn to bleak internal and external landscapes.  They worked together on “The Proposition,” a western-style and very violent crime story about brothers.  “Lawless” is another crime story about brothers, again very violent and, like “The Proposition,” with a bleak setting and compromised characters.  This one is a true story, based on Matt Bondurant‘s book about his Prohibition-era grandfather and great uncles, who were ran illegal hooch in Franklin County, Virginia, described by writer Sherwood Anderson as “the wettest county in the world.”

“There’s a feeling around these parts that these Bondurants is indestructible,” one character says.  Forrest Bondurant (a quietly powerful Tom Hardy) came back from WWI without injury and the community almost believes the legend that he cannot be stopped.  That’s good for business; you might even say it is their brand.  But just as in legitimate enterprise, the success of a local operation selling moonshine in mason jars attracts the interest of the competition.  The big bootlegging organization out of Chicago is thinking about what one might call a very hostile takeover.  The Bondurants have a good relationship with the local sheriff, who is happy looking the other way for a small piece of the action.  But a federal agent named Charlie Rakes (an oily and twisted Guy Pearce) arrives and for him it is not about law, morality, or directions from his superiors.  It is about power.  The Bondurants are not afraid of him and that is why he wants to destroy them.  Pearce, in gloves and slicked-down hair parted in the middle, is one of the best villains of the year.

Forrest is the leader and he has an unspoken understanding with his brother Howard (Jason Clarke).  Indeed, a lot that goes on here is unspoken.  The youngest brother, Jack (Shia LeBoeuf) wants to prove himself to his older brothers.  And he wants to prove something to a pretty churchgoing girl named Bertha (Mia Wasikowska).  Brash and flashier than his brothers, he has the nerve to try to make a deal with machine gun-toting Chicago hood Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman) and the entrepreneurial instinct to improve and expand production and delivery.  When he sees a brutal gangland slaying, his only thought is to grab a souvenir shell case.  He will have a Michael Corleone moment when the violence gets closer to home.   “It is not the violence that sets men apart,” Forrest says.  “It is the distance he is prepared to go.”  The Bondurants do not give up.  It is not about the money.  It is about defending their home and their right to make their own choices.

Maggie (Jessica Chastain) shows up out of the blue one day, offering her manicured hand to Forrest’s rough one and offering to work for the brothers.  “The city can grind a girl down,” she tells Forrest.  “Gets to a point where you start looking for somewhere quiet.”

Franklin County is far from quiet.  But the noise Maggie wanted to escape was the cacophony of heartlessness she was surrounded by in the city.  Everyone in this story is breaking the de jure law, but Maggie knows that the Bondurants have a core of integrity and loyalty that she can count on.  And she will show that she can be counted on as well.

Strong performances and an evocative sense of time and place anchor the film and the unexpected tenderness of the romantic interludes balances the brutality.  A coda provides perspective that just because someone is willing to go the distance does not mean he cannot come back home.

Parents should know that this is the true story of moonshiners during Prohibition, so the good guys are law-breakers and the police are corrupt.  The movie includes extremely graphic violence with characters tortured, injured, sexually abused, and killed, strong language including a racial slur and segregation, sexual situations including prostitution, female nudity, and alcohol and smoking.

Family discussion:  How were the brothers alike and how were they different?  The script was written by musician Nick Cave – how does the music help tell the story?

If you like this, try: Lawless: A Novel Based on a True Story by the real-life grandson of the youngest Bondurant brother

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Based on a book Based on a true story Crime Drama Romance

Exclusive Clip from ‘Jane Eyre’

Posted on February 11, 2011 at 8:00 am

A new version of the classic book by Charlotte Bronte is coming to the screen. “Jane Eyre,” the story of the shy governess who loves her brooding employer, a man with a dark secret.

It has been filmed many times, with some of the best versions starring Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles (with a brief appearance by a very young Elizabeth Taylor), Susannah York and George C. Scott, and Charlotte Gainsbourg and William Hurt, and Samantha Morton and Ciaran Hinds.

Here is an exclusive glimpse of the upcoming version with Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Dame Judi Dench, and Sally Hawkins. It opens in select theaters on March 11.

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