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Alice Through the Looking Glass: Curiouser and curiouser

By on June 4, 2016
Mia Wasikowska is Alice in Alice Through the Looking Glass.

Strong performances and eye-popping CGI but Alice through the Looking Glass doesn’t reflect the wonder it deserves, writes Ruth Allen. And it’s a bit scary for young children – unlike the so cute Miniscule: Valley of the Lost Ants. It’s hankies out for heart-breaking, funny and romantic Me Before You … Make sure you are sitting comfortable for edge-of-the seat thriller Money Monster and its timely observations. Love and Friendship is sharp and well written, Sing Street is an unmissable coming of age drama and Tom Hanks shines in A Hologram for the King …

ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS (PG) (3D) 

(Run time: 114mins; Director: James Bobin;  Cast: Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Mia Wasikowska, Rhys Ifans, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Lindsay Duncan, Matt Lucas, Alan Rickman, voice)

Synopsis: Alice returns to the whimsical world of Wonderland and is joined by The Mad Hatter, The White Queen, The Red Queen and new characters including Time. http://movies.disney.co.uk/alice-through-the-looking-glass

Director James Bobin [Muppets Most Wanted (2014); The Muppets (2011); Ali G, Aii (2000)] brings us this sequel to Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (2010) with a story that has only the loosest of loosest nods to Lewis Carroll’s novel of the same name.

This screenplay by Linda Woolverton is mostly a time travel fantasy – H.G. Wells meets J.K. Rowling – shot in eye-popping hallucinogenic CGI visuals.

Alice Through the Looking Glass opens with Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska) sailing the Straits of Malacca with her crew on her father’s ship, The Wonder. They are under attack by pirates, so Alice tries to steer the ship away from them. The winds blow the ship towards the open ocean but Alice manages to bring it back on course before it hits a huge rock.

The complicated narrative gets curiouser and curiouser when, three years later, Alice returns to London and reunites with her mother (Lindsey Duncan). She informs Alice that Hamish Ascot (Leo Bill), the man that Alice rejected in the previous film, has taken over his father’s company, as well as Alice’s share of it, along with her mother’s house.

Alice claims this is payback for the rejection, though Hamish denies it (even though it’s obvious). He says he will give Alice back the bond to her mother’s house if she signs over her father’s ship. Alice and her mother argue over the matter and Alice retreats into another room. There, she sees Absolem (the wonderful voice of Alan Rickman – his final performance), who is now a blue butterfly. He tells Alice she has been away for too long. Absolem flies toward a mirror and goes through it and is back in Wonderland (or “Underland”).

Alice then reunites with Mirana The White Queen (Anne Hathaway), Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum (voice of Matt Lucas), The White Rabbit (voice of Michael Sheen), The Cheshire Cat (voice of Stephen Fry), Bayard the bloodhound (voice of Timothy Spall), Mallymkun the dormouse (voice of Barbara Windsor), The March Hare (voice of Paul Whitehouse) and the Bandersnatch.

They’re all in the middle of – what else – a tea party, when they inform Alice that Tarrant Hightopp/The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) has not been himself lately and they believe she will be able to help him.

The Hatter believes Alice can help bring them back his family. To do this she must speak to the main antagonist, Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) and use the Chronosphere, a powerful device that travels through time that only Alice can use since she is not originally part of Wonderland.

Sadly Alice through the Looking Glass doesn’t reflect the wonder that it deserves despite some strong performances – also it is perhaps too frightening for young children.

However the make-up department deserves praise – especially for Depp’s eyes. The film is dedicated to the memory of Alan Rickman ‘from his friends’.

MINISCULE: VALLEY OF THE LOST ANTS (U) 

(Run time: 89mins ; Directors: Hélène Giraud, Thomas Szabo)

Synopsis: In a peaceful little clearing, the remains of a picnic hastily abandoned spark warfare between two tribes of ants. At stake is a box of sugar. A bold young ladybug finds himself caught in the middle of the battle. He befriends one of the black ants, Mandible, and helps him to save the anthill from the assault of the terrible red ant warriors, led by the fearful Butor. www.lgukpublicity.co.uk/uk/index.php/upcomingreleases/157-miniscule-valley-of-the-lost-ants

Directed by Hélène Giraud and Thomas Szabo, who also teamed up on the TV series of the same name, this highly unusual French-Belgian animated sound-film was a success at festivals across the world.

The story is told without dialogue – except for the squeaks and toots of ants and ladybugs – and uses a stunning technique with animated insect creatures in the real world setting.

This epic adventure at ground level beautifully showcases what can happen when a group of small comrades unite together to achieve one big goal. Its hyper-realistic style uses classic cinema storytelling traditions and it will appeal to all ages through its fun and imagination.

Will the power of friendship and determination be enough, so that Mandible and the ladybug can save their home from the dreaded enemies?

Even in the world of bugs and insects, everything has a purpose and order. This is the case in a little meadow in the forest, where the various tiny creatures happily go about their lives, and everyone knows their place.

Imaginative, funny and cute, with a great musical score from Hervé Lavandier, Miniscule: Valley of the Lost Ants is an interesting antidote to the traditional animated insect-centric CGI films. Showing exclusively at Vue Cinemas

ME BEFORE YOU (12A) 

(Run time: 109mins, Director:  Thea Shamrock; Cast: Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin, Jenna Coleman, Charles Dance, Janet McTeer, Brendan Coyle)

Synopsis: Louisa Clark lives in a quaint town in the English countryside.  With no clear direction in her life, the quirky and creative 26-year-old goes from one job to the next in order to help her tight-knit family make ends meet.   Her normally cheery outlook is put to the test, however, when she faces her newest career challenge. 

Taking a job at the local “castle,” she becomes caregiver and companion to Will Traynor, a wealthy young banker who became wheelchair bound in an accident two years prior, and whose whole world changed dramatically in the blink of an eye.  No longer the adventurous soul he once was, the now cynical Will has all but given up – that is until Lou determines to show him that life is worth living. www.facebook.com/MeBeforeYouFilm

Acclaimed theatre and television director, Thea Sharrock [Call the Midwife (TV 2012); TheHollow Crown (TV 2012); As You Like It at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (2010)] brings us this glossy romantic four hanky weepie, adapted by Jo Jo Moyes from her 2012 novel.

With a heartrending plot involving a cheerful, quirky, small town girl, Lou – Emilia Clarke [Game of Thrones (TV); Dom Hemingway (2013)] – who takes a job with a wealthy family to act for six months as a carer for their quadriplegic son, Will – Sam Clafin [The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016); The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Parts 1&2; The Riot Club (2014.].

Will had been successful but the accident has taken away his desire to live.  After a rocky start with Lou, their relationship soon grows into something much deeper.

A heart-breaking, funny and romantic film, Me Before You has good ensemble acting and attractive leads.  It is not Untouchable, the 2011 French hit from directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano about a beautiful quadriplegic friendship, based on a real life story; but both films interestingly underline the cushioning effects of financial wealth.

MONEY MONSTER (15) 

(Run time: 99mins; Director: Jodie Foster; Cast: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell, Dominic West)

Synopsis: Financial TV host Lee Gates and his producer Patty, are put in an extreme situation when an irate investor who has lost everything forcefully takes over their studio. During a tense standoff broadcast to millions on live TV, Lee and Patty must work furiously against the clock to unravel the mystery behind a conspiracy at the heart of today’s fast-paced, high-tech global markets. www.facebook.com/MoneyMonsterFilm\as

Multi-talented double Oscar winning actor and director, Jodie Foster [Little Man Tate (1991), House Of Cards (2014 Netflix), Orange is the New Black (2013-2014)] brings us this enjoyable , real-time, edge-of-the seat thriller which looks set to be the summer blockbuster.

Money Monster is a financial/hi-tech/broadcast newsroom thriller starring George Clooney as oleaginous, Lee Gates, the host of a stock market television show where he advises viewers on what stocks to buy and sell.   But when a high-tech stock that he has promoted mysteriously crashes costing investors $800 million, everyone is looking for answers and the company CEO Camby (Dominic West).

Lee and his producer, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) are held hostage on live TV by Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) a janitor who has lost everything investing that stock.

The film boasts assured ensemble acting from a top notch cast, a sparkling script and a tense plot about the topical theme of the money world spinning out of control; it destroys the ordinary man who has tried to do everything right by working every day and – in Kyle’s case – looking after his sick Mum and pregnant girlfriend.

At times it is reminiscent of Sidney Lumet’s Network (1976) and James L. Brooks’ Broadcast News (1987) but Jodie Foster’s film is a fresh, intelligent addition to the genre with timely observations packed into its tense thriller structure.

LOVE & FRIENDSHIP (U) 

(Run time: 93mins; Director: Whit Stillman; Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Chloë Sevigny, Xavier Samuel, Emma Greenwell, Justin Edwards, Tom Bennett, Stephen Fry, Morfydd Clark)

Synopsis: Based on the Jane Austen novella ‘Lady Susan’ and set in the 1790s, earlier than most Austen tales, Whit Stillman’s exquisite comedy of matchmaking and heart-breaking Love & Friendship concerns beautiful young widow Lady Susan Vernon. The deliciously scheming and manipulative Lady Susan has come to Churchill, the estate of her in-laws, to wait out the colourful rumours about her dalliances circulating through polite society. www.curzonartificialeye.com/love-friendship

Director Walt Stillman – known for his films about privileged, directionless youths [Metropolitan (1990), Barcelona (1994), The Last Days of Disco (1998), Damsels in Distress (2011), The Cosmopolitans (TV series 2014)] – now sardonically examines the posthumously published early Jane Austin novella Lady Susan to hilarious effect.

Lady Susan Vernon – an outstanding performance from Kate Beckinsale [Underworld series (2003, 2006, 2009, 2012), The Aviator (2004), Total Recall (2012), Everybody’s Fine (2009)] – is a beautiful, ruthless widow who takes up residence at her in-laws’ grand country estate. However her scheming and manipulative plans to secure her financial future are thrown into disarray with the arrival at the estate of her mousy daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark) and a silly but extremely wealthy suitor, Sir James Martin (a sparkling Tom Bennett)

A sharp and well written script adaptation by Stillman is faithful to the spirit of Austin, yet also refreshingly timeless.  Lady Susan is a selfish, flirtatious widow from a time of arranged marriages and when women were totally dependent on men for financial security.  She must find a comfortable life for herself and a rich husband for her daughter.  Her American friend, Alicia (Chloe Sevigny) has been banned from associating with Lady Susan by husband, Mr Johnson (Stephen Fry) under pain of banishment back to Connecticut.

With a strong ensemble cast, beautiful location filming and period costumes, Love and Friendship is a deliciously funny and intricate comedy as the beautiful Lady Susan attempts to wrap everyone round her little finger, whilst dispensing jewels such as: ‘Facts are horrible things’. 

SING STREET (12A) 

(Run time: 106mins; Director: John Carney; Cast: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Jack Reynor, Aiden Gillen, Maria Doyle Kennedy)

Synopsis: In 1980s Dublin an economic recession forces Conor out of his comfortable private school and into survival mode at the inner-city public school where the kids are rough and the teachers are rougher.

He finds a glimmer of hope in the mysterious and uber-cool Raphina, and with the aim of winning her heart he invites her to star in his band’s music videos. She agrees, and now Conor must deliver what he’s promised. Immersing himself in the vibrant rock music trends of the ’80s, he forms a band with a few lads, and the group pour their hearts into writing lyrics and shooting videos. www.facebook.com/singstreetmovie/

After the triumphant success of the modern day musical Once (2007), writer/director John Carney returns with another musical marvel, Sing Street.

It is set in Dublin in the 1980s, where 14 year old Cosmo (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) faces a sea of troubles – from an unhappy home life to a new school with bullying pupils and even tougher teachers.

Cosmo becomes fascinated with a mysterious local girl, Raphina (Lucy Boynton). So he does what any teenager would do – he forms a band and aims to win her heart by inviting the would-be model to star in the band’s videos.

Although they have limited musical talent, soon – on the advice of Cosmo’s layabout older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor) – they are finding their own distinctive style and writing songs and making music videos.

Strong ensemble acting means the film – which is a glorious blend of humour, fantasy and reality – never misses a beat. The young leads are at all times convincing and benefit from the backing support of an experienced local cast.

Sing Street is an unmissable, electrifying coming of age drama with a witty and often touching script, and a real treat of a soundtrack including The Jam, The Cure, Duran Duran, Lemmy and Motorhead.

A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING (12A)

(Run time: 97mins; Director: Tom Tykwer; Cast: Tom Hanks, Sarita Choudhury, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Alexander Black, Tom Skerriitt Ben Whishaw)

Synopsis: Cultures collide when an American businessman is sent to Saudi Arabia to close what he hopes will be the deal of a lifetime. Baffled by local customs and stymied by an opaque bureaucracy, he eventually finds his footing with the help of a wise-cracking taxi driver. www.ahologramfortheking.co.uk

‘’Once in a Lifetime’, the 1980 Talking Heads song by David Byrne, blares out over a confused and harried looking Alan Clay (Tom Hanks) as director Tom Tykwer’s [Cloud Atlas (2012), Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006), Run Lola Run (1998)] film opens.

Tykwer has adapted David Eggers’ 2012 best-selling novel set in a rising Saudi Arabian city, far from recession-scarred America, where a struggling businessman pursues a last-ditch attempt to stave off foreclosure, pay his daughter’s college tuition, and finally do something great.

In A Hologram for the King, Alan Clay suffers major culture clash in Jeddah, pitching for the IT infrastructure for the King Abdullah Economic City (“KAEC”) – a massive new development in the middle of nowhere.  A wise-cracking taxi driver, Yousef (Alexander Black) who loves 80s rock and a beautiful doctor, Zahra (Sarita Choudhury) eventually secure his survival as he pursues his deal of a lifetime.

As usual Tom Hanks is excellent and always watchable as the exasperated businessman supported in the comedy drama by a flirtatious Danish contractor (Sidse Babett Knudsen from Borgen) who gets him blind drunk on illegal booze and by cameos from Tom Skerriitt and Ben Whishaw.

Despite stunning cinematography from Frank Griebe, especially of the film’s Egyptian and Moroccan locations, the whole experience is rather uneven, as the story changes direction from the initial culture clash angle, and many of the situations – including a skinny dipping sea swim with the married doctor – seem rather improbable given what we hear of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).

Pix – Alice Through the Looking Class, Walt Disney UK; Minuscule: Valley of the Lost Ants, Lionsgate UK; Me Before You, Warner Bros; Money Monster, Sony Pictures; Love and Friendship, Artificial Eye; Sing Street, Lionsgate UK; A Hologram for the King, Icon Film Distribution.

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