DVD Reviews: BBC's Alice Through the Looking Glass and Alice in Wonderland

Two of the worst Alice adaptations I've ever seen!

A 3-Dimensional World, Flattened: 'Alice Through the Looking Glass' & 'Alice in Wonderland'

...Alice Through the Looking Glass is hardly a joy to watch. The scenes mostly take place with the actors standing in front of painted, storybook backgrounds, a halo of green-screen surrounding them. In each scene, Alice comes upon another character, they stand almost stock-still and have some kind of loopy conversation, a poem is recited (reenacted by different actors in front of a different storybook background), and Alice is on her way again. It’s hardly cinematic and barely even dramatic. It’s one step beyond having someone read the book aloud at the local library. 

With all of its limitations, somehow Alice in Wonderland manages to be worse. The cheap sets and poor effects are still present despite the 13 year gap. Kate Dorning, who’s taken over the role of Alice, seems much too old for the part—with someone as old as she is demonstrating a basic lack of understand about how the world works, she comes across as just plain simple (and with a squeakily high voice). Sometimes she argues with herself aloud, other times her inner monologue is presented as a voiceover, and it’s impossible to tell why one is used over the other...

... With the low-budget production values and bad special effects, Alice Through the Looking Glass and Alice in Wonderland combine the worst of public-access television with the worst of community theater. Take, for instance, the caucus race in Alice in Wonderland. There’s a crowd of extras, but the stage is so small there isn’t room for any running. Instead, the characters just shuffle about, remarking at how chaotic it all seems. It’s so ineffective, it can’t even be appreciated as camp.

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Film Review: Upside Down

'Upside Down': Two Worlds, Little Sense

By ignoring its own guidelines, Upside Down breaks a rule that’s even more important than the prohibition on combining matter and inverse matter: when inventing a new world, make sure the laws governing it are coherent. Trying to sync up the background information about life on these planets with what appears on screen becomes a distraction that plagues the viewing experience. It doesn’t matter what the film has to say about wealth inequality when all the audience is thinking is, “Wait, shouldn’t something be on fire by now?”

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PopMatters Best Films of 2012

My contribution to PopMatters' year-end wrap-up.

The Best Films of 2012

No. 4: Lincoln

In tackling one of the United States’ most iconic figures, a man who looms largest in American history, Steven Spielberg’s success is in matching Abraham Lincoln’s grandiosity with his film’s smallness. Instead of an all-encompassing biopic, Spielberg chose to focus on the final months of Lincoln’s life and his most important political success: the passage of the 13th amendment. And, while there is certainly much political theater surrounding the amendment, with flamboyant characters on both sides of the debate, Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner choose to keep the showiest scenes away from the president. He has a couple of emphatic, passionate monologues, but mostly you get a sense of the man through the tiniest moments: a rambling story, a bawdy joke, a wordless and restless afternoon pacing the White House with his son while Congress debates, a sullen glance. As the 16th president, Daniel Day-Lewis is in full control of this remarkable restraint—though he’s buoyed by a supporting cast rising to meet his greatness. Like the characters in the film, with Lincoln you get the sense that everyone is striving to quietly accomplish their most important work.

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PopMatters: 2012 Film Recap

My contributions to PopMatters' 2012 film recap.
The Worst Films of 2012

No. 6: Dark Tide

Apart from a few pretty underwater scenes, there is no joy in watching Dark Tide, about a diver (Halle Berry) who swims with sharks for passion and profit. The story is uninvolving, with threads that dead-end never to be picked up again and people who make stupid choices for reasons that are never explained. The characters are spoiled—a thrill-seeking businessman coerces Berry’s character to take him on a free-dive that they both know is dangerous, and he spends the entire film throwing his weight around while she pouts about it—and spend most of their time arguing, all to serve an emotional arc that never materializes. Even the visuals become murkier and murkier, with the main characters blending into the background as an impending storm, opaque water, and people indistinguishable from either (or each other) all flood the screen. You’re better off with the sharks.

No. 8: The Devil Inside

It’s not just the fact that the theatrical version of The Devil Inside ended with a title card directing viewers to the film’s website for more information that made audiences howl with disgust. It’s bad form, to be sure, especially considering that the website hosted videos that none-too-subtly revealed further twists that would’ve been obvious had they been in the movie to begin with (and, with a running time of a mere 83 minutes, it’s not clear why those scenes weren’t included in the first place). No, it’s the very idea that The Devil Inside—an obvious and uninspired exorcism tale that treads on the same themes about faith that have been explored since The Exorcist—merited any further investigation into its surface-level plot that’s the true insult.  

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DVD Review: Taken 2

Thanks to Key & Peele, I kept thinking of this as "Tooken 2" while I was reviewing it.

'Taken 2' Dutifully Follows the Most Standard of Sequel Formulas

All of this setup is really piece-moving to allow Mills to, in his words, “Do what I do best”—meaning charging after the bad guys without any backup, and taking them down. Sometimes there’s hand-to-hand combat; sometimes he gets a gun and just starts firing. There are neat little sequences, but no surprises: Everything that follows is as you would expect. It’s not that the action is poorly handled, but it’s just good enough to get Mills from the hordes of anonymous bad guys to the slightly more important bad guys to the really bad guys. At no point does Taken 2 deviate from this goal, or work any harder or get any smarter than it needs to be.

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Daily Traveler: Itineraries Inspired by Oscar's Best Picture Nominees

Where to Vacation: Travel Inspired by the Best Picture Nominees

The Oscar nominees for Best Picture were announced this morning—and not only do they tell some pretty amazing stories, but they also showcase some pretty amazing locations. Take a cue from the silver screen and plan one of these cinematic getaways in D.C., Paris, Los Angeles, and more.

Re-Create Life in "The Bathtub" of Beasts of the Southern Wild
Destination: New Orleans, Louisiana
Beasts of the Southern Wild centers on a fictional Louisiana Bayou community that calls itself "The Bathtub." And if there's one thing that the denizens of the Bathtub like to do—for better or for worse—it's drink. Celebrate in their style by taking our New Orleans bar crawl: We have nearly 40 suggestions of where to imbibe, including Bar Tonique for Sazeracs, Tujague's for grashoppers, and Liuzza's Restaurant and Bar for good ol' cold beer. Just don't try visiting all of them in one night, or you'll be so drunk that you'll see visions of the mythical aurox coming to get you. Better get some food to go with all that liquor. Hushpuppy (Oscar-nominated Quvenzhané Wallis), the heroine of Beasts, is taught by her father to fish with her bare hands, but we suggest trying something that's seen a little more culinary attention, such as the Creole innovations at R'evolution and the tasting menu at the soon-to-open Square Root. If you'd prefer to get a little closer to the spirit of the bathtub, visit Isle de Jean Charles, a small fishing village southwest of New Orleans, where the film was shot.

Click through to see the rest of the slide show at the Condé Nast Traveler.

Photo by Matthew D White/Getty Images

DVD Review: Chernobyl Diaries


'Chernobyl Diaries' Is Like the Real Chernobyl, in That There's Nothing There

The characters, thin and stock to begin with, keep finding ways to be disappointing. Over and over, they find themselves in situations where they know they should run and find help from outside of Pripyat, but they keep getting distracted from this life-saving mission to rescue friends that have gone missing, to scream and cry about friends they find worse for the wear, or to investigate strange and scary noises coming from somewhere in the distance. Repeatedly, they muster up heroic courage to go charging—unarmed and unprepared—after a strange sound or vision, only to run away again when they discover that, yes, something unsavory was the cause.

Sure, they’re under fire from multiple threats. Before they realize that Pripyat might not be entirely abandoned, they find themselves on guard against hungry wild animals (mostly ravenous dogs but once, hilariously, a wayward bear) and the contamination that still exists in pockets in the site. (The characters carry a Geiger counter to warn them against high levels of radiation.) However, these forces pop in and out of the story at will, and they’re never used to build a feeling of mounting suspense or dread.

By the time the real boogeymen of the movie are introduced, even the location has lost its luster. The characters are lured into underground tunnels, abandoned hallways, and darkened rooms—they really could be anywhere. This is one of the few horror movies where the atmosphere is spookier and more interesting during the daytime, before any of the haunts have come into play.

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