Tomorrowland

tomorrowland-logo

2015

Walt Disney Pictures

Directed by Brad Bird

Produced by Brad Bird/Damon Lindelof/Jeffrey Chernov

Screenplay by Damon Lindelof/Brad Bird

Story by Damon Lindelof/Brad Bird/Jeff Jensen

Despite my curmudgeonly demeanor, at heart I’m really a soft-as-a-marshmallow optimist. Really. I believe that Good always triumphs over Evil. That most people are good at heart and will lend a helping hand when they can. I depend on the kindness of strangers. I believe that the sun will come out tomorrow. I bet my bottom dollar that tomorrow there will be sun.

That’s why I’m really not much of a fan of dystopian science fiction. It kinda makes me sad that young people especially positively wallow in books and movies that depict the future as a pretty shitty place to live. And I think that as I get older, I want to believe more and more that mankind has a great and glorious future not only on this planet but in the far flung galaxies that I still believe we’ll explore. That’s why I was looking forward to TOMORROWLAND as it looked to be a science fiction movie throwback to an earlier time of hope and optimism that Science would make our world a paradise (It’s 2015…where the hell are my moon cities, jetpacks and flying cars, dammit?) and enrich our lives in every way imaginable.

There’s a part in the movie when disillusioned super genius Frank Walker (George Clooney) rages at Athena (Raffey Cassidy) that she did not fulfill the promise she made when she brought him to the city of Tomorrowland. Mr. Clooney could be speaking for me as well because TOMORROWLAND the movie certainly did not deliver on the promise that the trailers made to me.

Frank once lived in Tomorrowland, a futuristic city inhabiting another dimension. As a boy he invented a jetpack and eagerly brought it to the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens, NY to show it off to David Nix (Hugh Laurie) Nix is unimpressed but Athena, a young girl of surprising intelligence and maturity sees his potential and grants Frank access to Tomorrowland. Frank is later on banished from Tomorrowland and grows up mean, surly and resentful. But he still manages to monitor events in Tomorrowland. Events that may mean the end of the world.

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Athena re-enters his life, still looking like a young girl and bringing along Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) who in her own way may just be as mega-brilliant as Frank. Athena assures Frank that if they can get back to Tomorrowland, Casey might be able to prevent the end of the world. That’s if they can survive the attacks of killer robots sent after them by Nix who has engineered natural disasters, environmental catastrophes and implanted bad hoodoo in the minds of everybody on Earth to bring about the end of the world. Don’t ask why. The movie never bothers to explain and I’m not gonna do the screenwriters job for them and try to bail them out with extrapolating one.

Okay, let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first so I can end this review on a positive note. My major beef with the movie? That we spend so little time in Tomorrowland itself. There are two magical scenes that tease and tantalize. One is with Frank as a boy (Thomas Robinson) using his jetpack to fly over Tomorrowland and in that scene Brad Bird manages to evoke the same feeling I get when I look at the covers of 1950s science fiction magazines. The other scene is where Casey is briefly transported to Tomorrowland and explores the city. That scene also tickled my sense of wonder. Especially the swimming pools.

But except for those two scenes and near the end of the movie we never learn a lot about Tomorrowland itself. We’re constantly told how Tomorrowland is populated by inventors, scientists, artists, technologists and dreamers who are all working together to create the future. But we never see any of them or what they’re working on. And how did a guy with a head full of bad wiring like Nix wind up in charge, anyway?

Brad Bird’s direction really disappointed me as I know for a fact the man can direct a movie. He directed “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” which I consider to be the best of the “Mission Impossible” movies and he directed one of the best superhero movies ever made; “The Incredibles.” But TOMORROWLAND is devoid of any real energy or suspense. The movie and the characters just wander around doing things and while some of it is very exciting stuff, yes, it just doesn’t have a feel of urgency or that any of it matters.

What else? The ending feels very out of tone with the rest of the movie. It’s as if Brad Bird and his co-screenwriter Damon Lindelof felt that like every other summer movie, they needed a big explosion to finish things off.  And speaking of the writing, it leaves out so much that would go a long way to explaining Tomorrowland and the characters of Frank and Nix. We never do find out why Frank was exiled from Tomorrowland and Nix acts pretty much like a James Bond villain in that once he’s got the good guys under his thumb he explains his entire evil scheme to them.

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Now onto the good: George Clooney is is usually charming self. I dunno…it’s impossible for me to dislike Clooney in anything he does because he’s got such an earnestness behind what he’s doing on screen that I’m sucked in. It’s always welcome to see Hugh Laurie do anything on screen and he does the best he can with such a thin character. I don’t blame him, I blame the screenplay.

The acting honors go to the young ladies, especially Raffey Cassidy who somehow manages to be both unnerving and endearing at the same time. She acquits herself equally well in action scenes such as when she takes on a pair of hipster killer robots that run a science fiction memorabilia shop as well in more emotional scenes with Frank where they have to resolve issues from when Frank was a boy and fell in love with her, not knowing her secret then.

Disney's TOMORROWLAND..Athena (Raffey Cassidy)..Ph: Kimberley French..©Disney 2015

Disney’s TOMORROWLAND..Athena (Raffey Cassidy)..Ph: Kimberley French..©Disney 2015

Britt Robertson plays Casey as spunky, nervy, brainy and downright fun. The two young actresses have a wonderful chemistry and whenever they’re on screen together, TOMORROWLAND snaps, crackles and pops.

So should you see TOMORROWLAND? While I appreciated the marvelous special effects which evoke the spirit of 1950s science fiction and the movie’s message of optimism, hope and scientific exploration, it’s continually beating us over the head with that message and it gets in the way of the story. Wait for this to show up on Netflix or get the DVD.

130 Minutes

Rated PG

The Ides of March

2011

Columbia Pictures

Directed by George Clooney

Produced by George Clooney, Brian Heslov and Brian Oliver

Screenplay by George Clooney and Brian Heslov

Based on the play “Farragut North” by Beau Willimo

A movie like THE IDES OF MARCH couldn’t have come along at a better time.  What with the country being so politically divided and the various political parties at each others throats, a political thriller is undoubtedly a topical one.  But it’s not fair to call THE IDES OF MARCH a thriller.  It’s more of a character piece, examining the flaws of our political system.  Flaws that make it just about impossible for an honest man to remain honest if he wants to get to where he believes he needs to go to do the most good.  And how good can the intentions of a good man be when he betrays everything he believes in to achieve those intentions?

Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) is The Junior Campaign Manager for presidential candidate Govenor Mike Morris (George Clooney).  Under the guidance of Senior Campaign Manager Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) Stephen is clearly the real star of the campaign and it’s obvious he’s got a brilliant future ahead of him.  In fact, he’s considered to be so valuable a resource that the rival Senior Campaign Manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) wants to hire Stephen for his team.  Paul wants to make use of Stephen before he becomes cynical and corrupt like Tom and Paul.

Stephen turns him down but decides not to tell his boss.  A decision that will bite him very badly in the ass later on.  Along with his decision to cover up the affair one of his interns (Evan Rachel Wood) had with Governor Morris.  Both of these decisions drive the second half of the movie which ends up the only way that it possibly could, given the nature of the arena Stephen has chosen to play in.

THE IDES OF MARCH is one of those movies I point at when people complain that movies for adults aren’t being made anymore.  It’s a movie that carefully examines why people get into politics and why it changes them.  It’s almost as if no matter how honorable a man or woman is when they start their political career, the machinery changes them.  And not for the better.

This movie has one of the best ensemble casts I’ve seen in recent movies.  Besides Gosling, Clooney, Hoffman and Giamatti there’s Marisa Tomei as a reporter for The New York Times and Jeffrey Wright as a Senator whose endorsement is hotly sought as it is vital to the success of both campaigns.  Everybody’s simply terrific in their roles and Ryan Gosling especially gives off vibes that at times reminded me of Mickey Rourke and at others of Steve McQueen.

So should you see THE IDES OF MARCH?  I would certainly say yes.  It’s a mature movie.  And when I say ‘mature’ I don’t mean just because the movie has a sex scene and the “F” word is used.  I mean that it’s mature because of the issues at stake.  The moral and emotional values that are tested and broken.  The relationships that go in directions that are not expected.  And at the end of it, Stephen Meyers is left with what he worked so hard for and only himself to decide if it was worth it.

101 Minutes

Rated R

Solaris

2002

20th Century Fox

Written and Directed by Steven Soderberg

Produced by James Cameron and Jon Landau

Based on the novel by Stanislaw Lem

I had no idea what to expect when I sat down to watch SOLARIS as it had been so long since I read the Stanislaw Lem novel that I remembered little of the plot and I’ve never seen the 1972 version directed by Andrei Tartakovsky.  But by the time it was finished I was highly impressed.  Here’s a science fiction movie that doesn’t have bug-eyed aliens trying to eat us or conquer us.  There’s no babble of technospeak to make us think the characters are smarter than us.  There’s no laser gun battles or huge action sequences.  Like “Gattaca” or “EXistenZ” the movie qualifies as genuine science fiction, telling a thoughtful, mature, intelligent story about the nature of love and humanity.  But it does it in such a spooky, unnerving fashion that SOLARIS could almost qualify as a haunted house movie in space.  Think of “2001: A Space Odyssey” crossed with “The Shining” That’s how I would sum up SOLARIS to someone who’s never seen it.

Chris Kelvin (George Clooney) is a psychologist who appears to be successful but the emptiness of his life is almost more than he can stand.  He is snapped out of his depression by a cryptic message from his best friend Dr. Gibarian (Ulrich Tuker) who is part of a scientific team conducting research on a space station orbiting the distant planet Solaris.  The scientists have stopped answering all transmissions and a security team dispatched to find out what happened simply disappeared shortly after arriving on the station.  The only clue as to what is going on is the message to Chris in which Gibarian begs him to come to Solaris.

Chris goes and finds that Gibarian along with most of the team is dead.  There are only two survivors: Dr. Helen Gordon (Viola Davis) who is paranoid and hostile.  Snow (Jeremy Davis) is more laid back and even seems maddeningly cheerful about the situation.  He’s got what I think is one of the most chilling lines in the movie: “I could tell you what’s happened here but I don’t think that would tell you what’s happened here.”  Chris finds trails of blood that start nowhere and end nowhere.  And there’s a little boy with large, serene eyes prowling around the station.  A little boy who has no business being there.  And soon, Chris discovers for himself the frightening secret of Solaris when he is visited by his hauntingly beautiful wife Rheya who committed suicide several years ago after a bitter argument with Chris.

Gordon and Snow have had their own visitors as well.  Gordon refuses to tell who came to see her but it terrified her so much that she has created a weapon that can destroy these apparitions.  But are they apparitions?  They can be touched.  They laugh and cry.  They appear to be completely and totally human.  So much so that Chris falls in love with Rheya all over again and clutches at this chance to save her.  Gordon is equally determined to destroy whatever it is Rheya may be.  The battle in this movie is between ideas and emotions, not massive space fleets but it’s no less exciting to watch.

The movie looks as if it could be taking place in the same universe as Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” especially the scenes on the space station which quickly takes on a really creepy life of its own.  There are scenes where Chris is walking through the station and can dimly hear laughter or faint weeping or soft moans coming from the further reaches of the station.  There’s a blood freezing moment where he wakes up and sees Rheya talking with the little boy.  He turns his head and there’s yet another Rheya sitting nearby.  And Gibarian comes back to talk to Chris.  Chris demands to know what Solaris wants and the apparition of Gibarian asks: “why do you assume that it has to want something?”

It’s this refusal on the part of writer/director Steve Soderberg to attribute any kind of human motive or behavior to the actions of Solaris that makes the movie.  Surely there has to be some reason why Solaris is creating these exact replicas but the reason is never explained to us or to Chris Kelvin.  Solaris is this gigantic ball of living matter whose intelligence is so far above human that trying to comprehend its motives might drive a man insane and indeed, by the end of the movie, you may be wondering if the last few scenes are indeed real or taking place in Chris Kelvin’s shattered mind.  The last fifteen minutes or so will most definitely make you think if you’ve found the previous hour and thirty minutes intriguing.

The acting is outstanding here, especially George Clooney.  He’s one of the most likeable actors working in film today and here he creates a character that is extremely vulnerable and believable.  This isn’t a chest-beating man of action but a professional explorer of the labyrinth of the human mind who finds himself caught in his own emotional and psychological maze and has no idea how to get out.  Jeremy Davis is a lot of fun as he gives his character all of these strange quirks and ways of phrasing his sentences that are quite entertaining and even creepy.  And this is the first movie I recall seeing Viola Davis in and was highly impressed with what I saw.  Miss Davis is one of those handful of actors who are excellent even if the movie they’re in is crappy.  Thankfully, SOLARIS isn’t one of those movies which makes it all the better.

SOLARIS is the real deal.  It’s not an action or horror movie in sci-fi drag.  It deals with issues of life, death, the human heart and the nature of reality in such an intelligently adult manner that I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed it.  If you haven’t seen it I strongly urge you to do so.

PG-13

99 minutes