MOVIE BUFF-ET: Alice sequel lacks charm of the original, Nice Guys offers retro riff on buddy movie formula

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Alice Through the Looking Glass

(PG) 1 hr., 53 mins.

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In general Disney has done a fine job translating its animated fairy tales and adventure stories into live-action films. There’s no better example of that than The Jungle Book, which is still playing in theaters and doing good business after its mid-April release. It’s an entertaining film full of heart, adventure and laughs. I personally like it better than the animated original.

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about Alice Through the Looking Glass, the James Bobin-directed sequel to Tim Burton’s 2010 version of Alice in Wonderland, which actually got the ball rolling for these animated remakes. To be totally forthcoming, neither Disney’s animated version of the Lewis Carroll tale nor Burton’s live-action remake are my cup of tea, so to speak, but I do understand why their charms work for so many. Despite the madness in both there is enough coherence to tether the viewer to the story. That’s not the case with Bobin’s movie.

The film features much of the cast from Burton’s original, but I’m afraid the difference in the chef allows the ingredients to go to waste in this effort that comes off as bland despite the stunning visuals.

Any movie that has me checking my watch more than once has issues. As the movie rolled to the end, I wished that I’d spent my time and money on another visit to Zootopia or The Jungle Book.

That being said, one boring experience doesn’t turn me off live-action remakes of the Disney animated classics. I am looking forward to next year’s Beauty and the Beast, starring Emma Watson, of Harry Potter fame, as well as a live-action Sword in the Stone that reportedly is also in the works.

Grade: C-

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

(R) 1 hr., 32 mins.


Comedies have to be the most difficult films to make. Attempting to string together a story a mass audience will find funny has to be confounding.

When a studio stumbles on to an idea that works and becomes a hit or even a moderate hit, it must be hard to resist the urge to go right back to that formula, hence Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.

The only problem is with comedy sequels the law of diminishing returns seems to be squared. It’s like hearing your weird uncle’s same old joke over and over again.

That’s not say the film, directed by Nicholas Stoller, doesn’t contain some laughs, or that Seth Rogen, Zac Effron and Rose Byrne don’t have a certain kind of chemistry together that can be fun to watch, but this sequel is based on an idea too flimsy to support their weight. The movie comes off as a half effort, unworthy of a trip to the theater.

Grade: C-

Nice Guys

(R) 1 hr., 46 mins

Warner Bros. Pictures

I’m not sure whether it was the studio, director Shane Black, a producer or somebody else who came up with the idea of teaming Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling in a period, buddy action-comedy, but whoever it was more than earned their paycheck that day.

Gosling and Crowe work so well off each other as 1970s-era private investigators in Nice Guys that it’s a wonder two haven’t starred together before.

The trailer for the film was so funny and effective that going into the movie I wondered if I hadn’t already seen the best parts of the movie.

I’m not sure if there is a better scene in the movie than the one in the trailer where Crowe confronts Gosling, while Gosling is occupied in a restroom stall. Gosling’s slapstick in the scene is excellent. However, the film offers a juicy mystery that is the meat of the movie. The comedy only accentuates the flavor.

Crowe’s Jackson Healy is a throwback to a 1940s noir PI, who investigates with his fists as much as he does with his mind. He is a rough customer who doesn’t mind bending the rules, but he has a code and feels guilty when he crosses that line.

Conversely, Gosling’s Holland March is as much a con man as he is an investigator, looking to milk his clients for as much as he can and providing very little in return. Holland’s one redeeming quality is he’s working to support his tween daughter Holly (Angourie Rice). Rice is a performer to watch in the future. Holly plays Jiminy Cricket in the film, acting as the conscience of her dad and his new, rough-and-tumble partner.

The PIs paths cross when a young woman, the daughter of a high-ranking Department of Justice official (Kim Basinger), disappears after making an “experimental” pornographic, investigative film that could spill the beans on the corruption in the automotive industry,
The mystery is solid and the mix of slapstick and violence keeps you on the edge of your seat in the film that reminded me in tone of the Eddie Murphy-Nick Nolte pairing “48 Hours.”

Crowe and Gosling form a nice one-two-punch. I wouldn’t mind seeing them work together again.

Grade: B+

Classic Corner


Shark attacks have been in the news lately with two occurring within the last week, one on the East Coast and the other on the West. I guess that and the fact that summer sneaking up fast brought the Steven Spielberg classic Jaws to mind.

There are higher-minded films, movies that are more informative and intellectually stimulating, but I don’t know if there is a better movie than Jaws.

I still remember rushing to the theater after church one Sunday afternoon to stand in line with my brother and his girlfriend (now his wife) to buy tickets for the evening showing at the Park Theater in Memphis. Jaws played on just one screen in the entire city of Memphis, and you had to do your time in line if you wanted to get a seat.

Six-year old boys don’t like to bath anyway, but after seeing the movie, I went three days without a bath before being forced into take one by my dad. I think that might have been my first shower out of compromise.

The movie is historically significant as the first summer blockbuster, and though it’s so familiar today, 41 years later, the movie can still weave its magic around a new viewer and entertain one that has seen it multiple times.

The movie features a classic man versus nature plot as a gigantic man-eating shark plagues the beaches of Amity, a fictional New England island, during the all-important tourist season.

Roy Scheider is excellent as police chief Martin Brody, a former big city cop, who is not at all comfortable on the water. Richard Dreyfuss is the smart-mouthed oceanographer with little patience for the local bureaucracy that places business before safety. Robert Shaw is the shark-hunting fisherman Quint who is the oil to Dreyfuss’ water. Reportedly Shaw was quite dismissive of Dreyfuss while shooting the film, but whatever tension was there worked wonders in the film.

As great as the scares are in a first-viewing of the film, the best scene in the movie and one of the best scenes ever committed to film is the one where Shaw tells the tale of his character’s involvement in the USS Indianapolis tragedy where sharks devoured many of the survivors of the torpedoed U.S. Cruiser. Though not all died from shark attacks, only 317 of 1,916 crewmen survived.

The movie not only catapulted the careers of Spielberg, Dreyfuss and Scheider to the stratosphere, but it also shot composer John Williams to the top of his field with his landmark score that plays in the heads of many anytime a shark is mentioned.

The movie gets you on primal level. It’s all about facing your fears and finding away to conquer them. Anyone can relate to that.