(On TV, July 2018) I really should have liked Kind Hearts and Coronets a lot more than I did. For some reason, though, the film simply didn’t click. It should have—as an early example of dry British black humour, the idea of having a frustrated man killing everyone in the line of succession to a title he covets is rather amusing. The narration has an ironic kick to it as the protagonist details his plans and state of mind, while the dual romantic interests introduces a nice complication. Some of the adulterous dialogue feels decently racy even today (“You’re playing with Fire” “At least it warms me”)—in fact, reviewing quotes from the film, I’m impressed all over again by the quality of the script. Which leads me to think that the conditions in which I viewed the film (with terrible audio and bad captioning from a standard-definition channel that doesn’t really care about offering an optimal viewing experience) may have played some role in affecting my enjoyment of the film. It certainly has qualities to spare. Dennis Price is sympathetic enough as the serial murdering protagonist, while it’s hard to choose between Valerie Hobson and Joan Greenwood as his love interests. Meanwhile, Alec Guinness seems to be having tons of fun playing no less than nine roles in the same film, sometimes in the same scene. Yes, I think that I will revisit Kind Hearts and Coronets in the future, but only if I can be assured of a high-definition viewing with synchronized captioning—the film demands such attention.
(Netflix Streaming, July 2018) Considering that I really disliked the 2010 Tim Burton live-action remake of Alice in Wonderland (for being dull and ugly, mainly, but also useless), I really didn’t have very high expectations for the sequel, and in fact delayed its viewing for more than a year before its impending disappearance from Netflix hurried matters along. To my surprise, I actually liked Alice through the Looking Glass a bit better. But here’s the crucial distinction: I liked the aspects of the sequel that wandered further from the original, and still disliked whatever linked the film to its predecessor. I’ll allow that Mia Wasikowska is fine as the lead actress. Otherwise, though, the farther away the film runs with its time-traveling concept, the better it becomes. Alice through the Looking Glass never breaks out of the increasingly mechanistic nature of 2010s fantasy films, but it does have some fun along the way, playing with grand visuals and peeking at younger (and less ugly) versions of the characters. Heck, even the story is slightly more original than the usual time-travel stuff. Even the chronological theme does harken back to the Lewis Carroll mathematical games in the original novel. It’s when the sequel clings to the original that it becomes much weaker. Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter is just as annoying as in the first film, Helena Bonham Carter’s character is still grotesque, and what the heck is Anne Hathaway doing with her hands in that role? Pink’s catchy “Just Like Fire” anthem song makes for a nice single illustrating an expensive-looking end credit sequence but has nothing to do with anything in the film, the series or Lewis’ legacy. As for the science-fictional devices, forget it – time-travel here is a story device that explicitly positions itself as taking place in an unchanging timeline. Even the framing device fails to find a satisfying denouement, showing quite a bit of laziness in the story department that fails to properly support the visual aspect of the film. And I won’t talk about the inevitable tendency of modern sequels to over-explain everything in their entire pocket universe. I still don’t think Alice through the Looking Glass is a good movie, but at least it’s better than its predecessor, and it offers a few good moments even as the rest of the film drowns it in market-mandatory mediocrity.