Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016)

alice1I wonder where to start, which rather shadows this film. After a wildly ill-judged (in my opinion) opening, this film took what seemed ages to actually get started following a stodgy series of expositional scenes, only really settling down at the halfway point, from which it was fine, albeit terribly  uninvolving- maybe even boring.

But I’m hardly the target audience of fluff like this, and if I were to throw this film back a few decades to my younger self back in the 1970s, I would likely have been enthralled. I mean, technically, sure, this things something of a marvel, the many effects houses throwing all sorts of amazing imagery on the screen. Its difficult sometimes to appreciate in this CGI-dominated age just how remarkable some of this imagery in modern films can be compared to what we were used to. I’m sure young children lap this stuff up and are thoroughly thrilled by it. So yes, I’m hardly the target audience, but… but really, it seems pretty wild and without much reason.  I can imagine the studio chiefs standing behind the effects boffins screaming “More pixels! More pixels!”

So my issues were from the vary start with a wildly extravagant and spectacular opening sequence of a naval chase/battle through a raging storm. I mean… well, this is real-world stuff apparently, and its wholly a subjective view, but I thought the whole point of these fairy-tales of characters entering fantastic worlds is that the fantastic worlds are, er, more fantastic than reality? I’m not suggesting that the film should have filmed the real-world stuff in black and white and jump into colour in the fantasy land as per Wizard of OZ, but there was a point to that ageless classic when it took that conceit. At least this film should have cemented, I think, the reality of the real world of Alice by layering it in some kind of realism. As it is, the opening is wilder and dafter than Pirates of the Carribean, and features the unlikely sight of a female captain of the high seas in Alice (Mia Wasikowska, utterly slumming it here, like the rest of the cast) in preposterous CGI high-jinks on wholly digital seas.  Going through the mirror after this stuff seems rather pointless, we’re clearly in fantasy-land already.

By the time the plot finally gets going we’re mid-way through the film and have already been assaulted by endless CGI. Really, films like this are as much animated movies per Pixar’s stuff as they are live-action. Much less coherent, too, to be honest. It certainly looks pretty but it is wholly boring- but, as I have noted earlier, I’m not the target audience- this films arrives about forty-odd years too late for me. I’m sure its got its fans but they are surely hardly the discerning lot, really.

The rest of us really should avoid such dross.

Stoker (2013)

stoker1.jpg2016.41: Stoker (Film 4, HD)

Perhaps its a case of the wrong expectations. I was under the (misguided, as it turned out) impression that this was a horror film. Maybe it was the title and its associations with a certain author. Well, its not a horror film- but it is something of a horror.

Style over substance- its something we see so much of now. Maybe its used by film-makers eager to distinguish their films from everything else in the market. I don’t mind it when its used with some kind of restraint, but I do have an issue with it when it interferes with basic storytelling. Terrence Malicks films are ones which I generally enjoy, but he certainly does cross the line sometimes. Likewise David Lynch, although something as genuinely great as his Mulholland Drive certainly benefits from its stylistic extravagances, demonstrating a voice all its own- but then again, it clearly has the substance to back up any stylistic excess.

Stoker, I’m afraid, doesn’t. It’s running-time is interminable; by thirty minutes I was awfully close to giving up on it, which doesn’t happen to me very often. I can usually watch any film, no matter how bad, to the often bitter end. Stoker stretched my patience. There is a story here but it is buried under endless strange edits and scenes that go nowhere/do nothing, moments where the sound effects dominate for no particular reason.

Stoker is the story of a family secret that devours all, and a coming-of-age tale about a teenage girl whose strangeness is merely an indication of a psychological problem that manifests -eventually- in a murderous appetite fed by her charismatic long-lost uncle, who arrives at the outset of the film during the funeral of her father. Told like that, the film sounds interesting, and if the film had simply told that story, then yes, it might have been a success.

Alas, the central mysteries aren’t really even presented as mysteries, they are almost inconsequential to the film, lost in the murk of the stylistic choices that swamp everything. The film opens at the funeral of the girl’s father, and instead of elaborating on the man’s mysterious death, suggesting a darker mystery for the audience to engage with and unravel, its simply passed over. Only later as the family secret is finally revealed does the significance of the fathers death appear evident, by which time I was pretty much past caring.

The cast is fine but in an effort to make them all seem rather odd and David Lynchian the film loses any empathy from the audience. I really didn’t care what happened to India (Mia Wasikowska), the oddball teenager preoccupied with focussing on the films audio track, or her mother Eve (Nicole Kidman) who is self-centered and soulless. The only interesting character is India’s long-lost uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) who is very much channeling Anthony Perkins from Psycho and clearly up to no good.

It actually reminded me a little of Twin Peaks. I don’t know if that was a conscious thing by the film-makers, but it did occur to me that all the oddness and obfuscation was very much in the vein of the first series of that tv show. Perhaps if I had been aware of this from the start I might have enjoyed the film more, but as I was expecting something of a gothic horror I was derailed somewhat. In anycase, I don’t think there is really any excuse for deliberately bad storytelling so this film was a pretty poor misfire to me.