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Alice Through the Looking Glass
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Where to Invade Next
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And….we’re back! Hope this reviews finds you all well. Let’s get started.
When in the course of retelling classic fables and stories of yore, it is often too easy to get embroiled in Disney-fying every element of the cinematic take of a film. A few years ago, with the announcement of a live-action Alice in Wonderland franchise, it all seemed like a good idea and the first film was so successful, the sequel was already given the green light before the first box office stats had been published. And so, we have Alice Through the Looking Glass. I am not here to bring you good tidings of great joy, save the performance of Sacha Baron Cohen as a personification of Time. A true standout. Where to begin, though?Assuredly, these performances would have benefitted from a complete overhaul of the script. The lines feel stilted and preachy, which is fine but it happens in a one-two-three punch at film’s end, which quite frankly is so predictable to the point of being boring. In this latest romp, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) now captains her late father’s ship and leads a crew of burly men out to sea in what is seemingly supposed to be a feminist message. When she suddenly leaves the modern realm for Wonderland, we fall head first into calamity and sadness, but even Johnny Depp (in the film for all of 20-30 minutes!), Anne Hathaway and the always fun Helena Bonham Carter are just going through the motions here. Honestly, after the first film’s ability to control the elements of fantasy, a classic story and the latest cinematic magic, expectations were set high for this new tale in 2016. Waste of time! The film’s highlight is the visual spectacle of it all and the 3D element lends itself well to the immersive feel of the film, but when that is the strongest point, one might as well head to a botanical garden on LSD. DVD treasure perhaps for your kids/teens in four months. ###
Michael Moore is back and has hit our socialist shores with a small bang…his latest film is called Where to Invade Next. It’s not what you’d think. The film starts off sharply, with Moore traveling to Italy to learn about their work-life balance with leisure time. We hear what we here in Europe already know, though too many US-Americans do not understand the concept, that socialism as not being dictatorial communism…I swear to Gawd, millions of US-Americans are convinced the two are loving bedfellows. Moore jokes about invading these countries and taking back their best ideas to the US as American ideals. We learn that Italians get 30 days of paid vacation a year, with five months of mandatory maternity leave; the days off that they don’t use in any given year roll over to the next. Moore really makes you want to move to Italy, but he doesn’t give anyone the chance to dig deeper; after all, we all know that Italy has had some major trouble in their economy lately. Next, Moore then moves to France and goes head-on into the school lunch systems…and boy will you get hungry just looking at kids’ lunch meals. It’s engaging, it’s delectable and whilst watching the big, sweet lug moving through major European countries wallowing in socialist delights is fun, as a critic my issue lies in the fact that by not exploring his subjects much deeper in any kind of detail, he leaves himself vulnerable to all kinds of opinionated attacks. John Oliver attacks these elements weekly on the HBO show Last Week Tonight, and we shan’t get started on The Daily Show or Stephen Colbert. This process replicates itself throughout the film, to Finland (education), Norway (prison systems), Slovenia (free university education) and Iceland (women’s rights). Everything is interesting and fascinating to watch and this US-American shed a few tears, but undoubtedly this film is shallow and made for North Americans, where 75% of the populace have no passport to leave the country. Ultimately, Moore recently summed up what many of us know about the greatest superpower in modern times. “What separates us from everyone else,” he writes, “is the way we force the members of our society to live in a constant state of fear: fear of going broke, fear of losing your job, fear of getting sick, fear of getting old and being without.” Fear. Fight the Real Enemy. ###-1/2
The latest Best Foreign Language Oscar nominee Theeb hit our shores this past weekend, and it did so with a whisper, alhtough it has so much to say. Jordanian director Naji Abu Nowar’s coming-of-age thriller is set in the desert in 1916, during World War I, when the Arabian Peninsula was still under Ottoman rule and the British were working with local tribes to get them out. The film is told from the point of view of a young bedouin boy named Theeb and the desert this film takes place in is too real and very rough, and all of this natural realism falls over into the tight script and impeccable acting. Theeb (Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat) and his older brother Hussein (Hussein Salameh Al-Sweilhiyeen) are the sons of a recently departed, much-respected sheikh. One night, an English officer (Jack Fox) shows up and asks for a guide through the desert to a distant well. Hussein departs with him, and Theeb, refusing to leave his brother, follows them. But this is not a tale of childhood reverie interrupted by horror, and one of Nowar’s beautiful accomplishments in this film lies in his matter-of-fact portrait of the film’s young protagonist: Theeb. The boy becomes a young man and the process of watching this in the film is, again, real and purely sensorial. It goes without saying that the violence of war eventually rears its head for little man Theeb, but Nowar stays true with his eyes fully framing the young boy’s direct experience…and ours. Jordan has hit it out of the park with this intense film, and you will be happy to have seen it and shared in its deep realism. ####
Have a great week everyone and see you very soon!