Alice Through The Looking Glass — a review

Should I go through? Or should I just stare at myself? It might be better to just stare at myself.

Should I go through? Or should I just stare at myself? It might be better to just stare at myself.

Having been a big fan of Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland, which I didn’t see until it came out on video, I wanted to rectify that mistake with the sequel. You see, the original Alice is such a gorgeous looking film; it’s got boundless scenes of true eye candy that I had always wished I had seen this in its original 3D format, which it was released in. And so when Alice Through The Looking Glass, the sequel, was released, I promptly saw it in the theater, hoping to enjoy a visual feast at least on the big screen. But there was a little problem.

Alice Through The Looking Glass really blows, hard.

Although he co-produced it, Tim Burton didn’t direct this one. The director here was James Bobin. The one thing that you could always count on with a Tim Burton-directed film is that it will always be visually interesting, even if the story isn’t very strong, which was why I thought the first film was so entertaining to watch: the visuals created by Burton were scrumptious, especially when watching them on Blu-Ray. But lacking the visual flair of the original, the sequel looks and feels more mundane–which, for a fantasy movie about Wonderland, is not a good thing.

Oops, looks like I should have stayed out of the mirror after all.

Oops, looks like I should have stayed out of the mirror after all.

Alice (Mia Wasikowska), now working these days on the rollicking high seas as a ship’s captain, gets called back to Wonderland to help the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) who has been stricken by a disease that can only be cured by having Alice go back in time. In order to do that, she must “borrow” a time machine from Time (played by Sacha Baron Cohen) himself. Portrayed as a half human, half mechanism, Time chases after Alice while she chases after a way of curing the Mad Hatter in the past before he becomes sick.

The whole movie feels like a tired retread, with endless exposition scenes that have the characters merely stand around and talk at each other for far too long. Even the return of Helena Bonham Carter as the former Red Queen (who was so much fun in the first film) feels flat and lifeless, as if the filmmakers were trying to restore a little bit of the former glory. But the boring and tedious Alice Through The Looking Glass, coming six years too late after its far better predecessor, winds up being an overly long waste of time. –SF

Warcraft — a review

When's this frigging meeting supposed to start, already? Can we at least get snacks while we wait?

When’s this frigging meeting supposed to start, already? Can we at least get snacks while we wait?

I’m not much of a gamer, so I’ve never played Warcraft. But I’ve certainly heard of it: the online game that’s created an entire fantasy world for its players to roam around in. I wasn’t surprised when they decided to make a movie out of the game, seeing how it’s so popular. Directed by Duncan Jones (the son of the late David Bowie who also directed the superb Source Code and Moon), Warcraft, the movie deals with an invasion of a race called Orcs, whose warriors step through a portal that transports them to another world. The reason the Orcs are launching this invasion is because their home world is dying. They’re led by a powerful Orc mystic who uses the souls of the living as fuel for his magic.

The world that’s being invaded is ruled jointly by several kingdoms made up of humans, Dwarves, and other fantasy world entities. These kingdoms are commanded by a human king played by Dominic Cooper, and he’s at a loss as to how to deal with these aggressive invaders. The Orcs are depicted here as being twice the size of a regular human with the strength to match, and, having established a beachhead, they’re building a portal to bring forth a much larger army. The king decides to call upon a powerful wizard played by Ben Foster for help, but magic may not even be enough to stop this invasion.

Does this new world we're invading have any Starbucks?

Does this new world we’re invading have any Starbucks?

Most movies based on video games have been abysmally bad, but Warcraft is the exception, thanks to Jones’ assured direction. Despite the fact that there’s a lot of CGI on display, Jones went through the trouble of building actual sets and props wherever he could, and the result shows on screen. The film has a gritty, tangible feel to it that gives the fantastical proceedings a more realistic air. Jones also covers the war from both sides, giving equal time to the Orcs by showing they are not all mindless monsters; he tries to flesh out his characters as much as possible, and this effort on his part is appreciated.

However, the pacing of Warcraft has a very rushed feel, and because of this it lacks the gravitas that director Peter Jackson imbued within his Lord Of The Rings trilogy (ironically, The Hobbit trilogy, also directed by Jackson, lacked any gravitas as well, with the final film in that trilogy also feeling rushed). One wonders if a longer, director’s cut is coming down the pike–and I wouldn’t mind if it did, because despite my quibbles, I still enjoyed Warcraft very much. It may not be in the same league as the cinematic Lord Of The Rings, but the enjoyable Warcraft still stands head and shoulders above many lesser fantasy films that have been recently released. –SF

X-Men: Apocalypse — a review

Excuse us, we're looking for a Mr. Apocalypse. Have you seen him?

Excuse us, we’re looking for a Mr. Apocalypse. Have you seen him?

After the mind-bending time travels of the superb Days Of Future Past, the X-Men are back, and this time they’re squaring off against none other than Apocalypse himself. If you’re wondering who the hell Apocalypse is and where he got such a spiffy name, he’s an old villain who originally appeared in 1986, in issue number 5 of the comic book X-Factor. In the film, Apocalypse is originally from Ancient Egypt, and winds up sleeping for several thousand years after being betrayed by his own people and buried under a collapsing pyramid in an opening scene that’s riddled with so much hyper active CGI that it feels more like a bad video game.

Oscar Isaac plays Apocalypse under heavy make up and one of these big rubber suits that I thought went out with old school hand-animation of physical models. Speaking of old school, XM:A takes place in 1983, rounding out the present ’past tense’ trilogy that started with X-Men: First Class (which took place in 1963) and continued with Days Of Future Past (which took place mainly in 1973). But XM:A lacks the gravitas and the coolness of its two predecessors, while still retaining a goofy sense of fun. The main problem was that, despite his impressive name, Apocalypse really doesn’t do much but talk, talk and talk some more.

What did that SOB say about my outfit?

What did that SOB say about my outfit?

He recruits four of the mutants, including Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and a young Storm, as his four horsemen, and yet there’s never any clear explanation as to why he needs them (it’s suggested later that they serve as his bodyguards, but why would Apocalypse even need protection if he’s so all-powerful?). And unlike some of the better X-Films, like X2 and DOFP, there are moments here when the film’s pacing comes to a screeching halt to service the exposition, as well as to pay another needless visit to William Stryker’s military facility to rescue mutants who have been abducted by the nasty government.

Shouldn’t Apocalypse be the main focus of the film, since he’s supposed to be such a bad ass villain from the dawn of time and all of that? No, and that’s annoying. But since the movie doesn’t really show Apocalypse doing anything but recruiting mutants in endless ‘getting the band together’ scenes, where he’s babbling on like a used car salesman, then maybe the visit to Stryker’s lair wasn’t such a bad idea after all. While it’s not as good as DOFP, XM:A still has its enjoyable moments, like another great Quicksilver scene, as well as the welcome return of Moira McTaggart (Rose Byrne). Granted, it’s a fun entry in the series, but it’s for from being the best film in the series. It would have been nice if XM:A tried to raise the bar just a little bit, instead of relying on superhero tropes and settling for being just a decent fan service flick. –SF