There is one scene in Hyde Park on Hudson where it's apparent how sharp and layered Billy Murray's portrayal of the 32nd President of the United States Franklin Roosevelt is. The film centers on the historic meeting of King George VI and the president at FDR's titular compound — a culture clash that worried both parties to no end. After their first lengthy meal FDR takes Bertie into his study for another round of drinks. Roosevelt sits him down to talk about his recent appointment as the King of England and the potential for war overseas. Bertie stammers out his concerns aware that his country has lost faith in him. FDR is nothing but comforting while he lifts his polio-stricken legs out of a wheelchair and maneuvers across the room. "If I were your father I'd be proud of you " he says with a grin.
Murray has always been a charmer dating as far back as his first season on Saturday Night Live and that demeanor makes him a perfect fit for America's only four-term President. But Hyde Park on Hudson wastes the opportunity of hiring Murray for the gig which opts not to hone in on the FDR/Bertie relationship in favor of another angle: Roosevelt's habit for mistresses.
Laura Linney plays Margaret Suckley a distant cousin of FDR's in whom the sitting President randomly decides to take a fancy. He calls her up out of the blue and immediately the two start finding romance in each other's company. A car ride out into the middle of a lavender field (and an impassioned sexual act) seals the deal. Margaret is infatuated with Franklin and the POTUS reciprocates.
And that's about it. The film is based on diaries discovered later in history and as far as the events of the movie are concerned their scandalous relationship went fairly uninterrupted. Alluded to in Hyde Park on Hudson Roosevelt's wife Eleanor had an understanding with her husband that allowed her to live on her own (and quite possibly have uncouth relationships herself) and for him to seek comfort with whomever he pleased.
The success of the other recent Bertie story The King's Speech may be cause for the meandering focus of Hyde Park on Hudson never quite confident to dive deep into any of sides of Roosevelt. But the film is at its richest when the spotlight is on King George. Actor Samuel West lives in the shadow of Colin Firth's Oscar-winning performance but he's still the most interesting character in the film struggling to shake off his commanding wife and become his own man. But Hyde Park on Hudson always goes back to the Margaret/Franklin relationship a vapid core idea that only offers the filmmakers an opportunity to shoot dynamic driving scenes through scenic upstate New York.
There is little conflict in Hyde Park on Hudson the greatest hurdle being Bertie's will-he/won't-he-eat-a-hot-dog predicament which sends the Brits into a tizzy. After an hour (and approximately 18 stamp collecting conversations) into the Hyde Park on Hudson it's apparent that the film is content with reenacting the events of the famous King and Queen visit and letting Murray's vibrant performance do the talking. Linney's intriguing mistress role fizzles out — it wasn't a big deal for FDR back 1939 and it hasn't gained any weight 70 years later.
Nearly a century and a half after Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland first acquainted readers with the Mad Hatter the Cheshire Cat and the rest of the peculiar inhabitants of author Lewis Carroll’s fertile imagination filmmaking technology has finally developed the tools capable of properly rendering Carroll's exquisitely twisted world on the big screen. And who better to oversee the translation than Tim Burton Hollywood’s foremost mass-market purveyor of dark quirky fantasy? If there’s any director working today who can lay claim to Carroll’s creative inheritance surely it is him.
His creation Alice in Wonderland is fashioned not as an adaptation of Carroll’s two Alice-centered books but rather a kind of sequel to them its titular heroine (Mia Wasikowska) redrawn as the mischievous 19-year-old daughter of English aristocrats. Given more to chasing small animals than attending society functions Alice is the kind of adventurous free-thinking Victorian renegade who thinks nothing of drinking suspicious beverages found at the bottom of rabbit holes.
If only she were more interesting. Burton’s Alice isn’t so much a character as she is a tour guide leading us through the director’s $150 million museum of digital delights. Virtually everything on display in the film from the giant mushrooms of the Underland forest to the bulging eyes of Johnny Depp’s (literally) mercurial Hatter was either created or enhanced inside a computer presumably one with a direct connection to Burton’s cerebral cortex. (Interestingly the enhanced Depp bears a more than passing resemblance to Elijah Wood who the producers could have gotten for a lot less money.) Much like Alice herself it’s gorgeous to look at but never particularly engaging.
Were he alive today — and reasonably coherent — Carroll himself would no doubt marvel at the visual grandeur of Alice in Wonderland its CGI world as detailed and immersive as the most vivid of his migraine-induced hallucinations. But he might frown at the short thrift given to his characters. Esteemed cast members like Anne Hathaway (The White Queen) Crispin Glover (The Knave of Hearts) and even the mighty Depp can’t hope to compete with the beauty of their surroundings — instead of actors chewing the scenery the scenery devours the actors. (A notable exception is Helena Bonham Carter the cast’s lone standout as the screeching acerbic Red Queen.)
Alice in Wonderland is really designed to function as an inoffensive family flick and in that regard it boasts more than enough pretty fluff to keep the minds of most pre-teens occupied for the duration of a Saturday matinee. But afterward they might be hard-pressed to recount details of the story which involves Alice having to find a magic sword so she can slay a giant dragon and unlock the Legend of Zelda. Or something like that.
Filled with moments of fleeting exhilaration and empty whimsy Alice in Wonderland never really grabs the viewer in any meaningful way its overall experience more akin to that of a theme park ride than a movie. Which I half suspect was Disney’s intention all along.
The thing is Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties doesn’t even have anything to do with the classic Charles Dickens novel. Two Kitties is more a pauper/prince type story. I guess kids probably don’t know what a “pauper” is and well The Prince and the Pussy wouldn’t really work would it? Still they could have at least come up with a clever story to go along with the title. This time around Garfield (Bill Murray) wants to stop Jon (Breckin Meyer) from asking cute-as-a-button vet Liz (Jennifer Love Hewitt) to marry him on a trip to London by stowing away. Once over the pond the fat yellow cat ends up being mistaken for a royal fat yellow cat Prince (Tim Curry) who has just inherited a castle. Sure Garfield likes all the perks--minced pie anytime he rings a bell; pampering beyond your regular tongue bath; and no Odie. There are a few downsides namely an evil relative (Billy Connolly) who wants the cat dead so he can get the estate but it doesn’t matter. Both cats are killed in the end anyway. Oh I’m kidding (I only wish). The laconic Murray is certainly a wise choice to voice the indolent fat cat and was mildly entertaining in the first Garfield. But for the Oscar-nominated actor to agree to do it again let’s just say it must have been very costly for the producers. I would hope anyway that he asked for a lot of money because why else would you do something as inane as this? The character interminably grates. There are also a bevy of British actors in Two Kitties who are equally annoying doing animal voices--from Curry as the mollycoddled Prince to Bob Hoskins as a bulldog and Sharon Osbourne as a pig. As for the human factor Meyer and Love Hewitt are gag-producing sugary sweet while Connolly just makes a complete ass of himself as the dastardly villain. It’s kind of embarrassing actually --for everyone involved. It still boggles the mind the first Garfield grossed $75 million domestically. Yes it was an understandable endeavor since the comic strip has always been immensely popular and with the advent of CGI creating the Garfield we all know and love for the screen was finally possible. But the first Garfield was so mind-numbingly ridiculous you just have to wonder what the audiences saw in it. I guess maybe it had something to do with keeping 7-year-olds occupied. Of course all the studio execs saw were dollar signs so it stands to reason they’d make a sequel. It made money dammit so we have to do it again can’t you see that? OK so let’s say we go with that reasoning hoping maybe they’ll have realized their mistakes with the first and come up with something better. No such luck. I have feeling this time around however those same execs may be disappointed. In a summer full of far more stellar entertainment for the kiddies these Two Kitties are going to thankfully fall by the wayside and put an end to the franchise once and for all.