Alice Through the Looking Glass

Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Matt Lucas, Rhys Ifans, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen

Director: James Bobin

Writer: Linda Woolverton


Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is one of my favourite stories and I absolutely love the Disney cartoon to death. Although this story has been adapted to the big screen time and time again, the 1951 animation is one of the only true successes. Disney understood that it is the madness that makes Wonderland work and fully embraced it. Wonderland is a world of nonsense where logic and reason go to die. It is a world where up is down, black is white and wrong is right. The fun comes from watching the rational, level-headed Alice attempt to apply reason to her encounters only to get lost in the insanity of it all. This is something that the Disney cartoon appreciates but that the 2010 Tim Burton film does not. Here the ingenious surrealism of Carroll’s work takes a backseat to something altogether more boring and trite: prophecies, politics and civil war. The film didn’t work because it attempted to introduce logic and sense to a world where it didn’t belong and created a story that was illogical and nonsensical. Sadly the sequel makes the exact same mistake.

Three years after taking over her father’s role in his trading company, Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska) returns from China to find that she will lose her family home unless she agrees to sell her ship and stake in the company. Unable to cope with this ultimatum, Alice runs away and happens upon Absolem (Alan Rickman) who leads through a mirror back into Wonderland (I refuse to call this world by the name they use in these films). There the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), the Tweedles (Matt Lucas), the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry) and all her other friends inform her that the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is in poor health due to the loss of his family in the Jabberwocky attack. Alice sets out to meet Father Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) and persuade him save the Hatter’s family. After he turns her down Alice takes the Chronosphere and travels into the past herself to change history. Time however is hot on her heels and is intent on stopping her before she destroys the very fabric of the universe.

Everything that was wrong in the previous film is wrong in this one. The colours are a little brighter and there are occasional glimpses of a world that actually resembles the Wonderland from Carroll’s stories but nevertheless the core problems remain the same. There is no madness, no wonder and no magic in this movie. Wonderland is a world of nonsense inhabited by crazy and fantastic characters where strange and wonderful things happen; being in Wonderland should feel like being in a dream. Instead the film tries to bring you down to Earth with its stories of Alice’s struggles as an independent woman in the oppressive Victorian world and of the tragic histories of the Mad Hatter and the Red Queen. If there has ever been a franchise that should not be restrained by the confines of a plot, Alice in Wonderland is it. A plot by its very nature has to be logical, coherent and structured. Wonderland is none of those things. Ironically the film is also none of these things but for the wrong reasons!

The film introduces the concept of time travel which should have made for an incredible adventure by allowing Alice to explore an entirely new dimension of Wonderland’s insanity. But then we learn that there are rules that have to be followed because the past cannot be allowed to change and paradoxes cannot be allowed to happen or else the very fabric of the universe will be undone or something like that. To make matters worse the film decided to introduce even more logic into the universe by explaining why some of these characters became “mad” in the first place. I really wish this film had a face that I could slap because it infuriates me how they can take something so wonderful, fun and creative and produce such a bland, clichéd and joyless story. This very idea of the Mad Hatter having father issues or the feud between the Red and White Queens being caused by some terrible secret is just so galling to me as it stomps over everything that made the original stories fun. It isn’t imaginative, inventive or surreal; it’s just overdone and dull.

Wasikowska’s Alice continues to be disinterested in the world around her and the incidents she experiences. She turns in the same one-note performance that made her a bore in the first film even though the film wants her to be some kind of strong, spirited figure who defies 19th century norms. Putting aside that I’m not convinced a feminist message is warranted in a story that has no point, the character in this film does not earn this status in any meaningful way. Many of the side characters from the first film return in this latest instalment and, if you enjoyed any of them the first time around, I suppose you’ll like them fine here. For me the only one who even came close to resembling her literary counterpart, and by extension the only one I found to be at all enjoyable, was Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen. Father Time is the biggest new character they introduce and he is actually quite interesting at first with his clockwork design and Werner Herzog accent. However there’s nothing about his personality that stands out because, just like the rest of the characters, it’s too grounded in logic and reason.

The kindest thing I can really say about this film is that it didn’t enrage me as much as the first film did. At least this time the drab, grey world of “Underland” (God, how I hate that name) has been replaced by actual colour. There was also the odd occasion when a character would actually do something that their character would do, that is something strange and nonsensical. Overall however this film was a bore and a displeasure to watch from beginning to end. It has next to nothing to do with the inspired, fantastical world that came from Carroll’s imagination and fails to conjure up anything even remotely interesting, fun or creative to take its place. It fails to capture that sense of imagination and wonder that is so crucial to making Wonderland the dream-like adventure that it should be. I believe that one of the most offensive things a film can possibly do is take a story that holds immeasurable promise and possibilities and then squanders it. This is why Alice Through the Looking Glass is such an offensive movie to me. The only reason this film even exists is to capitalise on the success of its equally infuriating predecessor. This film is unimaginative and lifeless and is entirely unworthy of the material it is based on.

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Grimsby

Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong, Rebel Wilson, Penélope Cruz, Isla Fisher, Gabourey Sidibe

Director: Louis Leterrier

Writers: Sacha Baron Cohen, Phil Johnston


Personally I’m not a huge fan of Sacha Baron Cohen. I thought he was very funny as Ali G and as Borat but, once I started catching on to the joke, he became less funny for me. In all of his films he plays an outrageous character, goes after easy targets and tries to achieve the most offensive or grossest humour he possibly can. This kind of humour can work well if done in a clever or skilful way but in Cohen’s case it just feels worn-out. What made Borat work was that Cohen was not a household name when it came out and so audiences didn’t know what to expect from him. Ever since that film made him a celebrity I think that his comedy has since become all too familiar. Today you know exactly what you’re going to get from a Sacha Baron Cohen film: gross-out humour and topical bad taste comedy. Those who like Cohen’s films and want to see more of the same will find plenty of it in Grimsby. I however am not one of those people.

Nobby (Sacha Baron Cohen) is a working-class, beer-guzzling football hooligan from the northern England fishing town of Grimsby. It has been 28 years since he lost his younger brother who is now Sebastian Graves (Mark Strong), MI6’s top agent. While on a mission to prevent a terrorist plot, Sebastian is discovered by Nobby who proceeds to cock up his operation, resulting in Sebastian becoming an enemy of the state and forced to go on the run. Nobby brings Sebastian home to Grimsby where they, along with Nobby’s wife Dawn (Rebel Wilson) and their 11 children, can lay low for a while and perhaps even reconnect. Meanwhile Sebastian entreats his colleague and friend Jodie Figgs (Isla Fisher) to help him pursue a lead that could clear his name. Once he discovers a plot that could threaten the entire world, Sebastian realises that the only man he can trust to help him stop it is his idiot brother.

For the most part I found very little of this film to be funny. There were a few moments that managed to get a laugh out of me like this one time near the end when Nobby decides to intervene in the World Cup final. Most of the jokes however are attempts by Cohen to be as shocking and vulgar as he possibly can and they just didn’t do it for me. I wasn’t disgusted or offended by this film in the same way that I was by Dirty Grandpa, I simply found the comedy to be quite weak. The film certainly doesn’t hold out on the gross-out department as it displays a series of outlandishly crass situations that leave very little to the imagination. When I said that I knew what I was getting when going into a Sacha Baron Cohen film, it doesn’t mean that I could have guessed the nature of the situations that Nobby and his brother would find themselves in. I could certainly never have predicted that a film about a football hooligan and a spy would lead me to a scene like the one involving the elephant. Nevertheless those scenes felt more gratuitous to me than humourous. It’s like the film thinks that being as gross as possible is the same thing as being funny.

One thing that can usually be said for Sacha Baron Cohen is that he is often so committed to his characters that he is able to completely disappear into them. In Nobby’s case however the actor remains in the forefront. Maybe this is the result of a further increase in Cohen’s celebrity status after appearing in such acclaimed works as Sweeney Todd and Les Miserables, or it could simply be because Nobby is not nearly as interesting or funny a character as Ali G or Borat. Mark Strong plays his part very seriously, leading to some good deadpan line deliveries, but gives up much of his dignity in the process. How the producers managed to convince him or the other talented actors like Penélope Cruz, Ian McShane and Gabourey Sidibe to be in this film I’ll never know. I’d be very interested in knowing what Strong was thinking as he and Cohen were filming the scene with the poison dart.

The film is crude and silly but not necessarily in an unpleasant way. I found Grimsby to be more senseless than repulsive. The film does try to take its shots the same way that Cohen’s previous films have (including one particular gag involving Donald Trump) but it isn’t clever or radical enough to make any sort of a meaningful impact. In a weird way the humour in this film, while definitely explicit and obscene, is actually pretty harmless. The comedy amounts to little more than toilet humour and sex jokes (albeit graphically so) and is too childish and ridiculous to be taken seriously. Those who enjoy this brand of comedy will like it for what it is. To me however it is a cheap, tactless comedy with some overly trashy scenes that come across as desperate rather than edgy.