Tag Archive: Alice in Wonderland

Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland was a perfect film for Disney. Not in terms of quality – it was actually very forgettable – but in terms of money. Not only did it make over a billion dollars worldwide, but it also set the trend for creating live action versions of classic Disney tales. But that film premiered right after Avatar blew everyone away with its 3D and the marketing for Alice in Wonderland capitalized on the popularity of this viewing experience. Now arriving a long six years after its predecessor, Alice Through the Looking Glass can’t rely on its 3D gimmick to succeed. But instead of trying to recapture the magic of Wonderland that was missing the first time around, the creative minds behind this film have produced something even more bland and uninteresting. It’s completely mediocre in almost every regard and it’s guaranteed to be forgotten not long after leaving the theater.

It’s been years since Alice (Mia Wasikowska) has visited her friends in Wonderland. Out in the real world, she’s become the captain of a ship and has just returned home from a voyage around the world. Upon her arrival she discovers that her former fiancé Hamish (Leo Bill) now runs her father’s company and is forcing Alice to sell her ship in order to save her mother’s (Lindsay Duncan) house. But soon Alice is once again transported to the world of Wonderland, where she is reunited with many of her fantastic friends. The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is the only friend who isn’t happy to see her. Having previously thought that his family was killed by the Jabberwocky, the Hatter now has reason to believe that they are actually alive. As the Hatter’s health deteriorates, Alice decides that she must go back in time to find out what happened to his family. But to do so, she must confront the sinister being of Time himself (Sacha Baron Cohen).

Director James Bobin has proven that he can be both clever and creative with the two latest Muppet movies, but here his creativity is completely stifled. There’s hardly anything to praise in the film, but there’s also not a lot to be critical of. It’s as if this was made by a machine that knows how to competently piece together a CGI-heavy movie, but has no rational thought into what would actually make a good film. The unique possibilities of Wonderland are endless, but Bobin doesn’t provide us with any interesting new set pieces or characters. Sure it’s fun to see Depp, Wasikowska and Helena Bonham Carter in these roles again, but that’s just not enough. Perhaps the screenplay by Linda Woolverton should have tried to be weird and different, instead of being predictably heartwarming. But ultimately, it’s the lack of imagination from everyone involved that makes the film so dull.

Alice Through the Looking Glass receives 2/4


Black Mass – Movie Review

Johnny Depp is a fantastic actor, but he’s been in a bit of a rut lately. Ever since the original Pirates of the Caribbean film, he’s mostly been playing the same goofy, bumbling character who wears a lot of makeup. Whether it be The Lone Ranger, Alice in Wonderland or any of the Pirates sequels, he’s given some great comedic performances, but the roles simply don’t flex his acting chops. Black Mass is a return to more serious fare for Depp and he’s really quite good in the film. Unfortunately, aside from Depp’s performance, there isn’t much here that hasn’t been done before in countless other gangster movies. Scott Cooper’s direction is serviceable, albeit uninspired, and the true story that the film is based off of doesn’t offer enough interesting developments to generate much excitement.

In 1975, South Boston is controlled by the Winter Hill Gang, an organized crime syndicate led by James “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp). Bulger is approached by John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), an FBI agent who asks Bulger for help in taking down a rival crime organization. At first Bulger scoffs at the idea, but he eventually realizes that this might be the only way for him to gain as much control over his territory as he desires. Connolly tells Bulger that the FBI will choose to ignore Bluger’s crimes if he helps them out and doesn’t kill anybody in the process. But as the Winter Hill Gang grows more and more powerful, Bulger’s sadistic desires become more and more prominent.

Pretty much the only aspect of Black Mass that’s actually worth discussing is Johnny Depp’s performance. While I may be exaggerating a bit with that statement (Joel Edgerton’s performance is actually really good as well), Depp is essentially the only one that is able to inject life into this otherwise by-the-numbers tale. Wearing a ton of makeup, he’s almost unrecognizable as the balding gangster. His blue eyes seem to pierce right through everybody that he looks at and it’s clear that Bulger is never messing around. This is no more apparent than in a scene where a close confidant of Bulger’s discusses a secret family recipe. At first the man refuses to tell Bulger how he marinates his steaks, but after a few prods from Bulger, the man gives up the details. This causes Bulger to question that man’s loyalty; if he’ll give up a family secret in just a few seconds, how quick will he be to turn on Bulger?

But other than a few brief moments of intensity, the rest of the film plays fairly straight and doesn’t really do anything good or bad. It’s a film where you’ll find your attention waning because it hits every single beat that’s become so familiar with this genre. Bulger’s involvement with the FBI and Connolly’s descent into the criminal underworld are two of the most interesting aspects of the film, but I would have liked the filmmakers to explore these aspects of the film more. Instead, we get a first hour that sets everything up in typical gangster fashion, only to offer a few sequences that are actually interesting. But even when Black Mass is wading through mediocrity, it’s Johnny Depp that makes everything worthwhile. You can’t take your eyes off of his sadistic performance and you won’t want to.

Black Mass receives 2.5/4


Following in the footsteps of Tim Burton’s wildly successful Alice in Wonderland and Sam Raimi’s equally entertaining Oz the Great and Powerful, Maleficent attempts to tell a classic story in an exciting new way. But unlike Alice and Oz, Maleficent simply isn’t that interesting. There’s a been-there, done-that feeling to this retelling of Sleeping Beauty and most of the minor changes that have been made to the story are a detriment to the final product. It’s great to watch Angelina Jolie in the lead role; it’s just a shame that everything around her feels so uninspired.

Attempting to give a back story to Sleeping Beauty’s main antagonist, we are introduced to the faerie Maleficent when she is just a young girl. When a human boy named Stefan walks into her forest, the two of them become friends and eventually fall in love as they grow old together, but the love fades away over time. The adult version of Stefan (Sharlto Copley) works for the King and is tasked with killing Maleficent (Angelina Jolie). Unable to kill her, he clips off her wings and presents them to the King. Stefan is given the throne and he gives birth to a young girl named Aurora. In an act of revenge against Stefan, Maleficent places a curse on Aurora, declaring that she will enter a deep sleep on her 16th birthday that can only be broken by true love’s kiss.

It’s clear that Maleficent wants to be a new spin on an old tale, but aside from an increased focus on Maleficent’s character, this is the same Sleeping Beauty tale that we’re all familiar with. It’s a shame that screenwriter Linda Woolverton doesn’t take any risks; what could have been a fresh perspective, instead feels like a dull retread. All of this is told through a narrator who interjects herself into the story so many times that it becomes frustrating. A script that relies on its narrator to explain the plot to the audience again and again is nothing short of a crutch for lazy storytelling.

Having previously worked as the production designer on both Alice in Wonderland and Oz the Great and Powerful, director Robert Stromberg knows how to make a good looking film. In his directorial debut, Stromberg successfully creates visuals that turn this fairy tale to life: the colors of nature are absolutely radiant and the visual effects will have viewers eyeing every inch of the screen. An early scene that showcases Maleficent flying through her natural forest is a sight to behold.

While the visuals may be wonderful, Stromberg lacks a sense of style, thus creating a film that feels familiar and ordinary. Once the luster of the shiny visual effects wear off, it becomes increasingly clear that this film isn’t as fun or as stylistic as it should have been. Like the script, Stromberg’s direction feels safe and mundane. This is a tale as old as time, but that doesn’t excuse the uninteresting structure and presentation. Because of this, the film feels far longer than it should be, even with a relatively short runtime. It isn’t until the film’s final moments that things actually pick up and become interesting again.

In her first onscreen appearance in nearly four years, Jolie is perfectly cast as Maleficent. Not only does she have the perfect look for the character, she also nails her performance, allowing her character’s backstory to feel real and affecting. The scene where she awakens to find her wings stolen is heartbreaking and it’s tough to imagine an actress pulling it off better than Jolie has. Jolie is at her best when she is bringing out the evil in Maleficent, so it’s a shame that the filmmakers believed it was necessary to force in a redemption story for her character. Giving Maleficent a backstory and then truly embracing her wicked ways without redemption would have made for a much more interesting movie.

But this is a family film after all, so it’s not surprising that they choose to take the safe, feel-good route. Instead of taking the story into exciting new territory, the filmmakers seem content to repackage the same essential elements with a slightly different ending. Despite great visuals, a fantastic score from James Newton Howard and a deliciously fun performance from Jolie, Maleficent simply doesn’t have the magic.

Maleficent receives 2/4