Out on Friday 27 May
Alice embarks on a new adventure. Whit Stillman unearths a lost Jane Austen story. Jodie Foster's credit-crunch satire draws mixed returns.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of Alice Through the Looking Glass, Love & Friendship, Money Monster, The Daughter, Mon Roi, Streetdance Family, The Price of Desire, Bobby, Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Director’s Cut, Gray Matters, The Truth, A Beautiful Planet, and Minuscule: Valley of the Lost Ants.
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ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS
Why did the Mad Hatter go mad? What made the Red Queen fall out with the White Queen? And why does Helena Bonham Carter’s version of the former have such a humungous head?
These and other questions you probably haven’t been asking are answered in Alice Through the Looking Glass, a return visit to the ‘Underland’ of Tim Burton’s imaginings that, rather like this year’s The Huntsman: Winter’s War, creates a backstory for characters that didn’t particularly need one.
Chalk that one up to Lewis Carroll himself, whose episodic, haphazard follow-up to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland required screenwriter Linda Woolverton to fashion a whole new framework for an adap that, once Mia Wasikowska’s Alice has re-entered Underland through the titular mirror, jettisons any attempt to reflect its source. Instead, the film gives Alice what might in Carrollian terms be called a Mission Unpossible: travel back in time to find out what happened to the Mad Hatter’s family, the unresolved fate of which has driven him to the edge of despair.
Movies have been made on flimsier pretexts than this. And at least this one enables incoming director James Bobin to play his trump card: Sacha Baron Cohen as the embodiment of Time, presented here as a testy, pernickety fusspot who, for reasons probably best known to the Borat and Grimsby star, utters his pronouncements in the meticulous Germanic inflections of filmmaker Werner Herzog.
“My inwincible machine is all too wincible!” he cries at one stage from beneath an Episcopal hat that, together with his ornate shoulder pads and whirring neck cogs, makes him resemble nothing so much as a malevolent grandfather clock: one who bristles at the countless idioms he has inspired (“Is it true that you heal all wounds?”) and the “me-shaped corridors” of the castle he calls home.
It is this domain that Alice must penetrate if she is to pinch the “chronosphere” that, when not powering “the great clock of time”, allows her to sail on the “oceans of time” in a gyroscopic, steam-punk version of Doc Brown’s DeLorean. (Luckily Wasikowska has already proved her seaworthiness in a maritime prologue that has her evading pirates on the Straits of Malacca in her good ship ‘The Wonder’ – a conspiratorial wink to another Disney franchise captained by one of her co-stars.)
But that’s only the beginning of an adventure that not only has Mia encounter juvenile incarnations of Johnny Depp’s Hatter and Anne Hathaway’s White Queen Mirana, but also sees Bonham Carter’s Iracebeth endangering all of Underland by interacting with herself – something she would have surely known was a no-no if she’d ever bothered to watch Timecop.
It’s no surprise to find SBC and HBC – reunited here after their earlier collaborations on Les Miserables and Burton’s Sweeney Todd – providing the lion’s share of the entertainment in a film that receives an additional jolt of energy whenever either appears on screen.
What does surprise is how muted Depp is in comparison, his Mad Hatter (real name Tarrant Hightopp, in case you were wondering) spending most of the story in a despondent funk oddly reminiscent of the languor Depp projected in that Australian apology video. Then again, perhaps that is to be expected from a subplot that reduces his demented force of nature to a sadsack with daddy issues.
The fate of Hatter Sr (Rhys Ifans) is a slightly humdrum mystery Bobin tries to keep us interested in over the course of a hectic 108 minutes. On top of all the above, room also has to be found for such regulars as Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Matt Lucas), the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry) and, most touchingly, Absolem the caterpillar turned butterfly (Alan Rickman in his final, voice-only performance).
Small wonder ATTLG is busier than both of Bobin’s Muppet movies combined, even without Alice’s attempts in 1870s London to escape both the dull future that’s been mapped out for her by her widowed mother (Lindsay Duncan) and an Andrew Scott-administrated sanatorium to which she’s fleetingly confined.
The result is an always diverting, never dull fantasy that rarely stays still long enough for the viewer to pick holes. There is a hole, though – the one Burton left when he traded the director’s chair for a producing role, taking his baroque whimsy with him.
THE VERDICT: Bobin’s attempt to fill Tim Burton’s shoes generates a lively but ersatz sequel that only truly ticks when Baron Cohen and Bonham Carter are around.
Director: James Bobin; Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Rhys Ifans, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen; Theatrical release: May 27, 2016
LOVE & FRIENDSHIP
We see all too little of Whit Stillman. It’s 26 years since his debut film, Metropolitan (1990), wowed audiences with a taste for sophisticated social comedy, and since then he’s only racked up five features in total. So it’s good to see that his latest, Jane Austen adap Love & Friendship, is such a delight.
The short novel it’s taken from, Lady Susan, was written by Austen when she was about 19 and not published till some 50 years after her death. It’s unusual for her, first because it’s almost all written in the form of letters, and second because her heroine, Lady Susan Vernon, is a woman of great charm and beauty, sharp intelligence – and no moral sense whatsoever. She’ll seduce any man she fancies, married or not, and cheat and scheme without scruple to get whatever she wants.
The role’s a gift to an actress with a gift for subtle comic timing – so who better than Kate Beckinsale, rescued from a slew of rubbishy vampire movies and carrying it off with irresistible wit and poise. In support she’s got her co-star from Stillman’s The Last Days of Disco (1998), Chloë Sevigny, as a Yankee married to a grumpy elderly Brit (Stephen fry) who keeps threatening to send her back to (horrors!) Connecticut. Comedy of a broader sort is provided by Tom Bennett as a fatuous young aristo of great wealth and scant brainpower.
Austen seems to have tired of her epistolary opus, abruptly cutting it off short with a cursory ‘conclusion’. While remaining faithful to her plot, Stillman’s done an impeccable job of fleshing out the characters, adding his own period-style dialogue that meshes seamlessly with that of the original, and rounding it all off with a far more satisfactory ending. It’s his first foray into the world of costume drama, and suits him like a well-tailored pair of britches. Let’s hope we can expect more from him in a similar genre.
THE VERDICT: A lesser-known novel by Jane Austen becomes an auspicious foray into costume drama by Whit Stillman. Kate Beckinsale shines.
Director: Whit Stillman; Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Chloë Sevigny, Xavier Samuel, Emma Greenwell, Tom Bennett; Theatrical release: May 27, 2016
With The Wolf of Wall Street and The Big Short, Hollywood drew satirical capital from post-credit-crunch rage. In Jodie Foster’s thriller-comedy, the interest is softer. Flipping channels of reference between telly-com Broadcast News, satire Network and classic crimer Dog Day Afternoon, Money Monster is a diluted hybrid of all three: its sums don’t quite add up.
That it remains a watchable investment is mostly down to a cast fronted by George Clooney as Lee Gates, clown-host of a fiscal TV show taken hostage on air by Jack O’Connell’s working-class time-bomb Kyle. Julia Roberts convinces as Patty, a producer taking calm control, Clooney rivets as Gates loses control; but Foster’s tonal grip wobbles.
The rapid-hustle action and dialogue can’t disguise a core mismatch between gags – erectile cream, shot-framing – and the tragedy of a man desperate to know why his stock flopped. Creditably, Foster acknowledges fat-cat culpability, but Clooney’s turn to decency drains sting from the satire and tension from the hostage set-up. It also leads to a familiar net result: O’Connell/Kyle get short-changed while the big guys (and stars) run off with the show.
THE VERDICT: Foster’s fiscal lark offers post-recession cinema: brisk and gamely played, but muddled in its tonal maths.
Director: Jodie Foster; Starring: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell; Theatrical release: May 27, 2016
Australian theatre director Simon Stone makes an impressive feature debut with this loose reworking of Ibsen’s The Wild Duck. Geoffrey Rush and Sam Neill play ageing patriarchs of two intertwined families in a small-town drama loaded with secrets, lies, guilt and betrayal.
From these two downwards, the cast is superb – from Paul Schneider, as Rush’s prodigal son, to homeland’s Miranda Otto, and Odessa Young as the titular offspring. Subtle and skilled, this simmers for long periods until its highly satisfying finale.
Director: Simon Stone; Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Sam Neill, Odessa Young, Paul Schneider, Miranda Otto, Ewan Leslie; Theatrical release: May 27, 2016
Polisse director Maïwenn returns with this searing study of a couple’s disintegration. The film centres on Emmanuelle Bercot’s Tony, who’s recovering at a physical-therapy centre after a skiing accident, and flashes back through her decade-long relationship with Vincent Cassel’s Georgio, a womanising wild man she hopes to tame.
Heavily improvised, the leads are startling in their vitality. At two hours-plus, Mon Roi could do with a trim, but Maïwenn injects freshness into that age-old cinematic staple, the love story
Director: Maïwenn; Starring: Vincent Cassel, Emmanuelle Bercot, Louis Garrel; Theatrical release: May 27, 2016
Cinemas are practically popping with hip-hop dance dramas, but this low-budget doc is the real thing. It follows dance crew/Britain’s Got Talent finalists Entity and their journey to the under-16s Hip-Hop World Championship – a journey fraught with setbacks and crises. There’s even a last-minute knee injury.
The doc’s real heart, however, is its adults, for whom Entity is as much about community and purpose as fancy footwork. That goes especially for instructor Tashan, a figure of immense warmth and inspiration who reminds us that good things do happen to good people.
Directors: Debbie Shuter, Adam Tysoe; Theatrical release: May 27, 2016
THE PRICE OF DESIRE
A convention-busting artist gets a conventional tribute in Mary McGuckian’s biopic. Orla Brady makes poised work of Eileen Gray, the 20th-century free-thinker, designer and architect whose villa E1027 was ‘misattributed’ to the men in her life.
Vincent Perez is a seedy Le Corbusier and Francesco Scianna charms as Gray’s lover; but the sparks between the trio wind up stifled by stolid plotting and dense art debates. Compared to Gray’s work, this well-furnished reclamation doesn’t let much feeling in.
Director: Mary McGuckian; Starring: Orla Brady, Vincent Perez, Francesco Scianna, Alanis Morissette; Theatrical release: May 27, 2016
Released to mark the 50th anniversary of England’s World Cup triumph, this polished doc pays tribute to that winning team’s golden-haired captain Bobby Moore.
Drawing on interviews with Moore’s relatives, colleagues and friends, and plentiful archival footage, director Ron Scalpello positions his subject not just as a talented and dedicated footballer, but as one of a new breed of working-class heroes to emerge in ’60s Britain. Moore’s national-treasure status today stands in stark contrast to his shameful treatment by the FA and West Ham following his retirement.
Director: Ron Scalpello; Theatrical release: May 27, 2016
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND: DIRECTOR’S CUT
The story of a cosmic visitation among ordinary folk-turned-obsessives, Spielberg’s masterpiece is that rare blockbuster – at once grown-up, yet full of fairytale, childlike wonder.
Re-released in nostalgic 35mm, in its final and surely most satisfying version it’s an unusual blend of 1970s conspiracy thriller, harrowing domestic drama (replete with child abduction and nervous breakdowns) and dazzling light show, featuring peacenik aliens. You owe it to yourself to watch it on the biggest screen possible
Director: Steven Spielberg; Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, François Truffaut, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon; Theatrical release: May 27, 2016
The many faces of Eileen Gray receive impassioned attention in Marco Orsini’s detailed docu-study, out in conjunction with Gray biopic The Price of Desire. Talking heads pitch her as a design innovator, feminist, “mother of modernity” and “chameleon”; so, she wasn’t just about non-conformist chairs.
True, non-fans might tire of the 100th iconic piece displayed. But Orsini also succeeds in honouring the life of a woman who created radical designs for living, painting a vivid picture of a “humble” trailblazer as “a manifest phenomenon”
Director: Marco Orsini; Starring: Zeev Aram, Anthony DeLorenzo, Philippe Garner, Dr Jennifer Goff; Theatrical release: May 27, 2016
Two decades on from Leaving Las Vegas, Nicolas Cage returns to Sin City for a goofy heist caper about two dodgy cops with designs on a secret bank vault. Sibling co-directors Alex and Benjamin Brewer have fun establishing their Ocean’s Eleven-esque scenario, one that gives Cage plenty of room to lend comedic and sinister shadings to his unlikely criminal.
When things go pear-shaped, though, it’s cohort Elijah Wood who has trust issues in an efficient noir that, for 90 minutes at least, arrests Cage’s recent string of clunkers.
Directors: Alex Brewer, Benjamin Brewer; Starring: Nicolas Cage, Elijah Wood, Jerry Lewis, Sky Ferreira; Theatrical release: May 27, 2016
A BEAUTIFUL PLANET
Shot by astronauts from the ISS and screened in IMAX 3D, this is a short (46 mins) but overwhelming experience: a doc exploring not just Earth’s magnificence, but how we take it for granted. It’s a balance of spectacle and warning, one that director Toni Myers (Hubble 3D) – via Jennifer Lawrence’s narration – executes with reverence and an optimism that things can change.
Director: Tony Myers; Theatrical release: May 27, 2016
MINISCULE: VALLEY OF THE LOST ANTS
If Ant-Man’s ever looking to recruit, there are plenty of heroic critters in this charming French live-action/CGI-animation hybrid. Playing like a cross between A Bug’s Life and The Lord of the Rings (no, really), it sees a lost ladybird joining forces with black ants to fight some red ones, leading to an ace siege that stirs memories of Helm’s Deep.
Directors: Hélène Giraud, Thomas Szabo; Theatrical release: May 27, 2016