ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS (UK/USA/PG/113mins) Directed by James Bobin. Starring Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Sacha Baron Cohen, Matt Lucas, Alan Rickman, Stephen Fry, Timothy Spall. THE PLOT: With The Mad Hatter (Depp) fading fast because no one believes him when he says his family is still alive, it’s left to Alice (Wasikowska) to travel to Time himself (Baron Cohen) in the hope of rewriting history. Also trying to bend Time’s ear though is the wicked Iracebeth (Bonham Carter), determined to get her revenge on her goody-goody sister, Mirana (Hathaway), and finally wrestle the reigns of the kingdom from her. Stealing the Chronosphere, Alice jumps back in time, in the hope of saving the Mad Hatter’s family, and, by extension, the Mad Hatter himself, but such a move puts Time on a countdown to death. And the Red Queen on the warpath… THE VERDICT: There’s plenty going right in Hollywood these days, especially when it comes to comicbook franchises, but ‘Alice Through The Looking Glass’ is a great big shining example of how it can all go horribly wrong too in these Franchise Is King times. A sorry sequel to an even sorrier blockbuster smash, the dark sarcasm of Burton and Depp has fallen so very, very far since that 2010 hit that they’ve each become box-office poison. Burton keeps to the shadows these days, retreating ever-more into the indie world in search of a credibility kick, whilst Depp, sadly, has morphed into the new Nicolas Cage.
It doesn’t help that the strangely ageing Depp looks like the bastard child of Madonna and Finbar Furey here.
There are quite a few casualties in ‘Alice Through The Looking Glass’. Hands up who gives a crap about one-time Oscar contender and box-office sweetheart Anne Hathaway these days? And poor James Bobin, taking the helm on the Titanic after making his mark with ‘Flight Of The Conchords’ and then experiencing both the joy and the pain of Hollywood with, respectively, ‘The Muppets’ (2011) and ‘Muppets Most Wanted’ (2014). With Burton retreating to the safety of a producing role here, poor Bobin has been handed something of a poisoned teacup here. Sure, the first ‘Alice’ outing made over a billion, but that’s when teenagers would flock to anything Johnny did, especially when it was with his longtime partner in gothic grime, Dr. Tim. The crappiness of that movie, along with the likes of ‘Charlie & The Chocolate Factory’ and ‘Dark Shadows’, put paid to that blind, rabid fanbase though.
And how difficult must it have been for Depp and Carter here – once part of two golden, bestest bud couples who had the world at their feet, and adoring kooks at their electric gates, and now dealing with all kinds of shrapnel crazy?
The only saving grace here is Sacha Baron Cohen as Time, delivering the movie’s handful of funny lines, and somehow managing to convince in a world of over-saturated CGI and drowning box-office champs. Avoid. RATING: 1/5 Review by Paul Byrne
MONEY MONSTER (USA/15A/98mins) Directed by Jodie Foster. Starring George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell, Giancarlo Esposito, Catriona Balfe. THE PLOT: Lee Gates (George Clooney) is the presenter of Money Monster, a New York based TV show that tells potential investors just what they should do with their money. After Ibis Clear Capital – one of Gates’ tips – loses $800 million overnight, Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell), desperate and dangerous after losing all of his money, breaks into the studio and holds Gates hostage with the demand of finding out just where his money went. THE VERDICT: George Clooney leads the show here as the egocentric, loud but charming Lee Gates, and as usual, Clooney is on fantastic form as he runs the gamut of emotion throughout the course of the film. We both love and hate Gates, and this shows Clooney’s skills of to their best. Jack O’Connell makes Kyle the heart and soul of the film; even though his actions are violent and threatening, O’Connell makes it clear that this is a man who is at the end of his tether, and as we learn more about Kyle, O’Connell makes him a fully rounded and sympathetic character. Julia Roberts is whip smart as Patty, and her rapport with George Clooney is wonderful to watch on screen. The rest of the cast features Dominic West, Giancarlo Esposito and our own Catriona Balfe as Diane Lester, a PR agent for Ibis Clear Capital who begins to dig deeper.
Screenwriters Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore and Jim Kouf have created a story that is just grounded in reality enough to be believable, but far fetched enough to be ridiculous, gripping and wildly entertaining. Logically, enough holes could be picked in ‘Money Monster’ to fill the Albert Hall, but disbelief needs to be suspended high for this film to work, but when it works, it really works. The film is well written, with the screenplay turning expectations on their heads, and pleas for help that would have worked in any other film being routinely flipped with expectations subverted.
Jodie Foster paces ‘Money Monster’ incredibly well, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats throughout the entire film. As mentioned, expectations are turned on their heads throughout the film, and Foster allows tension to build and dissipate at the precise right time to keep the audience engaged. The three lead actors are strong in their roles, easily owning the story of the film, and keeping the audience empathy with them. There are times when the pacing falters, but Foster quickly rectifies this each time, before the issue spreads throughout the film.
In all, ‘Money Monster’ is a fun, far-fetched and engaging thriller that is driven by the characters and the choices they make. Foster does well as director and the three leads are on top form, but the pacing struggles from time to time. ‘Money Monster’ is not a film to be thought about too deeply, but is an engaging thrill ride. RATING: 4/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
LOVE & FRIENDSHIP (Ireland/Netherlands/France/USA/G/93mins) Directed by Whit Stillman. Starring Kate Beckinsale, Chloe Sevigny, Tom Bennett, James Fleet, Morfydd Clark, Emma Greenwell, Jenn Murray, Lochlann O’Mearáin, Sophie Radermacher, Stephen Fry, Ross MacMahon, Justin Edwards. THE PLOT: Life for the single high society girl in 1790s London is a tough one, but widowed temptress Lady Susan (Beckinsale) has a distinct advantage – namely, a fine body and a complete lack of scruples or decency. It’s evident in her long-suffering daughter, Frederica (Clark), kicked out of boarding school for both running away once too often and because her mother refuses to pay the school fees. Forcing herself upon the happy home of her late husband’s brother, Charles Vernon (Edwards), Lady Susan is soon giving the latter’s impressionable young brother-in-law, Reginald DeCourcy (Fleet), a bloodrush or two – much to the distress of his sister, Catherine (Greenwell), the lady of the house. Helping Lady Susan in her cunning plans to marry into money is her old friend Alicia Johnson (Sevigny), even if the latter’s older husband (Fry) insists that his wife never mix with this terrible influence. With the bumbling Sir James Martin (Bennett) presenting himself as a suitor for a horrified Frederica, Lady Susan knows she’s got her work cut out for her if she is to secure herself a comfortable future… THE VERDICT: Despite the fact that Whit Stillman is a very, very, very nice man, and is clearly intelligent, witty and insightful, it’s always bothersome that the man’s films were never walked the walk the walk. The ideas were great, the scripts often packed some sweet zingers and chucklesome home truths, but, from those early outings, ‘Metropolitan’ (1990) and ‘Barcelona’ (1994) to the recent back-door mumblecore comeback ‘Damsels In Distress’ (2011), Whit Stillman’s movies always felt stilted and stiff. Like Hal Hartley in a Penneys beret. Or a student Woody Allen in a cravat.
Suffice to say, expectations for ‘Love & Friendship’ were low. Here was Stillman, barely back out of the woods (‘Damsels’ didn’t quite reach the parts, critically or commercially), shooting a sunny period piece in rainy Ireland, with his old ‘Last Days Of Disco’ duo, Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny. The former had come and gone as a box-office also-ran, and Sevigny is still working her way through the growing pains of being a former indie teen queen. Which can’t be easy for Chloe, given that she seems to be slowly morphing into Marty Feldman.
So, you can imagine the surprise when this adaptation of a lesser-known Jane Austen novella by a lesser-loved New York filmmaker with two recovering career actresses turned out to be a hoot. Beckinsale is perfectly cast as the “manipulative, beautiful and fascinating” (as Whitman puts it) Lady Susan, cunning and conniving in the extreme when it gets to bagging herself a rich husband and a strong lover. Even if that’s a two-man job.
Pretty much stealing the show though is English comic actor Tom Bennett, known here for TV’s quite funny ‘PhoneShop’ and the Chris O’Dowd dud Family Tree. Playing the gloriously gormless Sir James Martin as a cross between Hugh Laurie’s Prince Regent in ‘Blackadder The Third’ and Darren Boyd’s Horatio in Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain’s ‘Ladies And Gentlemen’ (2007), Bennett hits Sellers-esque heights of brilliant buffoonery.
There’s still that smell of student film shortcomings – you can tell a lot about a filmmaker by how natural the extras look – but all of that fades away as the wickedness and the wry humour kicks in… RATING: 4/5 Review by Paul Byrne
MON ROI (France/TBC/130mins) Directed by Maïwenn. Starring Emmanuelle Berco, Vincent Cassel, Louis Garrel, Ludovic Berthillot, Camille Cottin, Félix Bossuet. THE PLOT: As Tony (Emmanuelle Bercot) recovers from a skiing knee injury, she reflects on her life – a therapist tells her a knee injury is symbolic since the knee is a joint that only beds backwards. Through flashback, we learn of her relationship with the enigmatic cad Georgio (Vincent Cassel), which goes from flirtatious to serious, to dangerous in quick succession.
THE VERDICT: Emmanuelle Bercot plays Tony as a woman we know; we have met her, we are friends with her, or we have been her. Tony is so blinded by Georgio’s charm and her love for him (or should that be dependence on him?) that she willingly puts up with abusive and manipulative behaviour from him. Bercot is strong in the role, and treads the line between victim and survivor well. Vincent Cassel turns on the charm as Georgio, making the character seem playful, charming and fun; making it easy to see why Tony fell for him. Cassel also swings between charming and emotionally abusive, and often turns between the two quickly. The two are strong on screen together; their banter and arguments alike feeling honest, intimate and real. The rest of the cast is made up of Louis Garrel, Ludovic Berthillot, Camille Cottin and Félix Bossuet.
Etienne Comar and Maïwenn’s screenplay feels honest in its portrayal of an abusive relationship, with Tony often driven to the edge of despair, but always returning for more. Whether this is addiction, dependence or simple blindness is never explained, but Tony’s reaction to a therapist’s claim that she is carrying suffering crystallises her thoughts, spurring her reflection over her life, and new friendships. The build up of emotional abuse is carefully written, with Cassel spouting such arrogance as ‘Defying me, are you?’ before riling Bercot into a frenzy then making out she’s the dangerous one.
As director, Maïwenn has a strong handle on the relationship between Tony and Georgio, but she does allow the film to dwell on the good times, before rattling through the good times. This means the pacing of the film is something of a mess and, although it is enjoyable to spend time with the couple when things are good – including the most hipster French wedding ever – the audience is often left to wonder where the film is going, if anywhere at all.
In all, ‘Mon Roi’ is an interesting look at the nature of abuse, and how much someone put up with before they realise the situation they’re in is toxic. The trouble is that the film is badly paced and, although Cassel and Bercot are great together, this means the film often feels drawn out and slow. Rating: 3/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
THE DAUGHTER (Australia/15A/94mins) Directed by Simon Stone. Starring Sam Neill, Geoffrey Rush, Anna Tov, Miranda Otto, Paul Schneider, Odessa Young, Ewen Leslie. THE PLOT: It’s New South Wales, and local mill owner Henry (Rush) is letting his staff know that he’s shutting up shop. It’s more bad news for an already-depressed little town, but not quite enough to stop Henry getting hitched to his glamorous young housekeeper, Anna (Torv). Even if the family dynamic all around them is a tad complicated.
Returning son Christian (Schneider) is happy for his father, and very happy to meet up again with his childhood friend, Oliver (Leslie). Oliver is now married to Henry’s former housekeeper, Charlotte (Otto), and they have a teenage daughter, Hedvig (Young). Oh, and also living with them is Oliver’s father, Walter (Neill), a former business partner of Henry’s.
Got all that? Well, brace yourself for some betrayals. And dark family secrets… THE VERDICT: This pretty-much-star-studded adaptation of Ibsen’s The Wild Duck is directed by Syndney theatre fave Simon Stone, The Daughter marking his debut as a writer/director. Unfortunately, despite the pedigree on both sides of the camera, there’s a distinct air of the first-timer about this admirable but muddled film.
Having already adapted Ibsen’s play for the stage back in 2011 – the production travelling from Sydney to Oslo, Vienna and London – Stone clearly knows his source material here. And he knows that having actors like Sam Neill and Geoffrey Rush up front, there’s going to be at least two people who very much know what they’re doing when the cameras roll.
And, for the most part, ‘The Daughter’ works perfectly well, with not only Neill and Rush delivering believable, engaging performances but the likes of Schneider, Leslie, Torv and Otto all do exactly what it says on the 132-year-old paper. Ultimately though, ‘The Daughter’ is one of those films that’s never quite the sum of its parts. RATING: 3/5 Review by Paul Byrne