Tagged: Tomorrowland

John Ostrander’s Summer Movie Wrap-Up


Labor Day 2015 is upon us. Technically, the season’s change on September 23rd but for all intents and purposes, summer closes shop right after Labor Day. The summer movie season is over and the fall seasons are gearing up. Among things to look forward to is the new Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, coming out around Christmas. However, we’re going to look back at the offerings from last summer, specifically the ones I saw and most enjoyed.

I freely admit I haven’t seen all the cinematic offerings that were out. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation got missed, for example. I saw a fair amount, though, and I’m prepared to talk about those. You should be prepared for spoilers since I may reveal plot elements. That’s okay; you should have seen these films by now anyway.

There are six films on the list – Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, Tomorrowland, Inside Out, Jurassic World, and Mad Max: Fury Road. All entertained me, some surprised me, and I’ll want all of them on disc for repeated home viewing, some more than others.

Remember: these are my opinions. Your mileage may vary.

Avengers; Age of Ultron moved the whole Marvel franchise forward and, together with Ant-Man, rounded out Phase 2 of the Marvel Conquers the Cineplex movement. The Avengers film had everybody and then some (played by their usual thespian counterparts), and included the Falcon in the mix and debuted Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch, and the Vision, always a personal favorite of mine. The Big Bad was the nasty computer program in the crisp robotic shell, Ultron, voiced by the always silkily threatening James Spader.

Did I like it? Yes. Did I like it as much as the first Avengers film? No. It seemed more disjointed to me. There were also odd additions – a possible budding romance between the Black Widow and Bruce (The Hulk) Banner (?). The suggestion that Black Widow had relationships with most of the other male members of the Avengers (because – why?). The fact that Hawkeye has a wife and kiddies out in the hinterlands. None of it seemed very central or even germane to the plot and seemed only to pad it out.

On the other hand, it also had the return of Nick Fury and, at a key moment, the original SHIELD Helicarrier, which I loved. The big fight at the end went on a bit long and didn’t always make a lot of sense. Nonetheless, I enjoyed all of it.

Ant-Man was the surprise to me. Like last year’s Guardian’s of the Galaxy, I would not have bet you money going into it that I would enjoy it so much. But I did. Paul Rudd was a hoot and I bought his heroic side when it surfaced. Michael Douglas took the Famous Older Actor In a Surprise Supporting Role that Robert Redford did in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Marvel/Disney really can afford just about anyone it wants to get.

Ant-Man may be better suited to the movies than the comics. The shrinking man and large objects around him works better on the screen than the page. I may be looking forward to this Blu-Ray even more than the Avengers one.

Tomorrowland is based, conceptually, on a portion of Disneyland but, like the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, is so much more entertaining than it needs to be. Part of that can be traced back to Brad Bird, who directed it and co-wrote the screenplay. You may know Bird better as the director on Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and others.

The film stars George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, and Britt Robertson as the spunky young gal who is the center of the story. The city of the title exists in a fold between time and space and it’s where the dreams of the future become real. It’s in danger of being corrupted and made prosaic by those who think they are saving it. What it needs is dreamers.

I love this film because, ultimately, it is so hopeful. It’s about the necessity of hope and that’s a message I think we need more of these days. It’s far from a perfect film but it’s message really appeals to me.

I’ve written before about Inside Out, the latest offering from Pixar. Quick summary: very inventive and imaginative, heartfelt, psychologically true (IMO) and wonderfully realized. I loved it.

Mad Max: Fury Road. Wow. Intense. As reboots go, stunningly successful. Tom Hardy makes a great successor to Mel Gibson and looks very much like him in the early Mad Max films. Charlize Theron kicks major league ass. George Miller is astounding. He’s seventy years old, it’s been thirty years since he last directed a Mad Max movie, and this film had so much raw energy, imaginative action sequences and filmmaking derring-do that you would have thought he was a much younger man taking over a sagging franchise. There’s lots of things that call back to the earlier Mad Max films while, at the same, time, laying claim to it all for a new generation of filmgoers.

Jurassic World. It’s been more than twenty years since the first Jurassic Park movie and about fourteen since Jurassic Park III (which, for the record, I preferred to Jurassic Park II although, from reports, Steven Spielberg did not.) This is essentially another reboot of a franchise although, strictly speaking, it does follow in continuity from the first one. It was a thundering successful relaunch; it made just buckets and buckets of money. It also marked Chris Pratt’s emergence as a bonafide and believable action film star. Oh, he was the star in Guardians of the Galaxy but his Peter Quill was a bit of a goofball as well; he had a strong streak of coyote in him. In Jurassic World, there is a young Harrison Ford feel to Pratt. Charismatic, strong, and a star.

One of the problems for Jurassic World is that, when we see the dinosaurs, there isn’t that same sense of wonder we had in the first Jurassic Park. The plot in Jurassic World mirrors that – the park itself is having problems because having dinosaurs is no longer “new” – not so much of an attraction — so the Powers-That-Be manufacture, by blending DNA strains, a whole new – and very deadly – form of beast. And, of course, it escapes. Jurassic World pleases us, it entertains us, but it doesn’t –- it can’t — give us that same sense of wonder, of discovery, that the first Jurassic Park did.

So – which of these was my own personal favorite? I enjoyed them all but there’s no question that Inside Out is my pick. It’s not a reboot, it’s not a sequel, it’s not another link in a cinematic chain; it’s fresh, it’s engaging, it’s funny, and it has its own truths to tell. Tomorrowland comes in second for the reasons I’ve already given. Like Inside Out, it is something new and fresh and that scores a lot of points with me.

So – how was your summer?


John Ostrander: Choose Your Future!


There’s an interesting duel going on at your local Cineplex – two very different views of the future. One is Mad Max: Fury Road and the other is Tomorowland. The first is a reboot of the classic Mad Max films, set in a very dystopian future, while Tomorrowland is based, in part, on a section of Disneyland. (While that might seem a bit thin a premise on which to base a film, keep in mind that the initial Pirates of the Caribbean was based on a ride at Disneyland and, the initial film at least, was delightful.)

While I haven’t yet seen the latest Mad Max incarnation, I know its predecessors very well and the trailers have certainly more than suggested that it’s the same landscape. Tomorrowland posits a city founded by the likes of Jules Verne, Thomas Edison, Nikolai Tesla, and Gustave Eiffel. In some parallel dimension, they created a utopia where the best and the brightest from all walks of life, art as well as science, can come and are encouraged to do anything they can dream. The four recruit other scientists and dreamers with a pin that has the letter “T” on it. It’s supposed to be science although for all extents and purposes, it’s a magic talisman.

I’m not going to do a review of either film but I am interested in the two contrasting visions of the future. Tomorrowland acknowledges the problems facing this world, any of which could lead to a dystopian future but it maintains that this future is not inevitable. As the villain in the piece, Governor Nix, maintains what makes it inevitable is that humanity embraces that dystopic vision, even runs towards it, because it is easier. All we have to do is nothing. Changing it requires doing something. I think doing something requires belief that the actions will have a positive effect, that the future can be changed, that it all can be made to work.

And that’s where it becomes a problem for me.

Dystopian futures are my stock in trade. Hell, dystopian present is a familiar stomping ground for me. That’s become even more so in the past few years. I look at the world, at the greed and the political insanity and the climate change and the droughts and the intolerance of all stripes, not only religious, and I don’t see it changing. I think humanity, like lemmings, are heading for the cliff and will jump off it.

Belief comes hard to me these days. For example, on the notion of God/god/ghod (pick a god, any god) I’m an agnostic in general and an atheist in specifics. Could there be a god out there? I don’t know. Quantum mechanics suggests all sorts of strange things; maybe within that a notion of god could exist. However, in regards to a specific god – Yahweh, Allah, Jesus, Zeus, Eshu, Thor, Shiva, Vishnu. Hecate and on and on – I don’t believe in any of them. The stories are interesting and can even have moral worth but I don’t believe any of their gods are real. If you do, fine. I’m not trying to correct you and tell you your belief in a specific image of god is wrong. It’s not mine, however.

Nor do I believe that humanity can or will come to its collective senses in time to avoid any of the disasters that seem lying in wait for us. There’s not enough profit, political gain, or perceived power to be had in doing something about any of this even if we could agree that something needs to be done and what that something would be.

And yet. . .

And yet, my heart responds to Tomorrowland. In it, they use the metaphor that we all have a bright wolf and a dark wolf within us fighting for control. Which will win? Whichever one you feed.

I know which future I think is more likely given who we are as a species.

But I want one of those pins with the “T” on it. I want to hope. I want to believe despite everything I think I know.

I want to go to Tomorrowland.

Martha Thomases: Look Out, Here Comes Tomorrow

Tomorrowland didn’t do as well as expected this weekend in theaters.  Some people celebrated this fact, apparently believing that the movie was the brainchild of George Clooney and that it was a propaganda film about climate change.

They must have seen a different movie than I did.

I’ll admit that, like the Big Hollywood website, I went to the theater with my own set of assumptions and biases.  Tomorrowland is my favorite area in the Disney parks, the first place I wanted to go the first time I went (in 1979).  I love the work of director Brad Bird, and have since The Family Dogperro-de-familia

And, yeah, I have the hots for George Clooney and I think climate change is an issue deserving action.  Only the first of those affects my ticket-buying decisions.

So, the Disney nerd in me loved the movie.  But, more important to this column, so did the comics fan.

Because I love the future.  I remember when everybody did.

You see, one of the themes of Tomorrowland is that we, as a society, have become too enthralled with pessimistic stories and fleeting fads.  Instead of wallowing in disaster movies (like this) or dystopian dramas (like this), we should work together to make the future better.

Look, it’s really normal for adolescents to be drawn to the “grim’n’gritty” dystopias.  And, by “normal,” I mean that I did it.  For me, devastated that I was not only the center of the universe but my parents weren’t all-powerful and my body was doing strange things that involved icky fluids, it seemed that pessimism was the more sophisticated viewpoint.  I wasn’t a little kid anymore, with bright colors and flowers and candy.  No, I wore black and I was sullen.  If the cool kids (the jocks and the cheerleaders) wouldn’t have me as one of their own, I was going to act as if I rejected them first.

And then I grew up.

Look, I still like a lot of things that can seem pessimistic.  Blade Runner remains one of my favorite movies, based on the work of Philip K. Dick, a rather depressing writer whom like a lot.  I like punk rock and Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen.  I like Transmetropolitan and The Dark Knight Returns.

The older I get, however, the more I want hope.  And that hope lies in the future.alanna-and-adam-strange

Comics helped me with this.  Adam Strange not only engaged with an alien world, but fell in love and married an alien.  The Legion of Super-Heroes posited a time when the whole universe would band together to make life better.

A lot of today’s best comics come from a hopeful place.  I’d include Saga  and Sex Criminals and even Bitch Planet as works that rouse the spirit.

Another science fiction writer I enjoy, William Gibson, is sometimes credited as one of the founders of the cyberpunk movement, which often painted a bleak future.  His most recent book, The Peripheral, has it’s share of dystopian prophecy, but ends up (SPOILER, maybe?) making the case that we can change the future.  We can make the world better.

A better world is worth the effort.  Especially if it includes George Clooney.aa19ac627923e9f171a6e379af4c6c36

Box Office Democracy: Tomorrowland

It’s profoundly irritating just how lifeless Tomorrowland is. I’m not even talking about how in the grand climax there was clearly no budget for extras so it just seems like three people fighting in a bunch of cavernous empty sets. I mean that one of the biggest movie stars of a generation joined forces with a director that could seemingly do no wrong and they made a movie that always seems like the next scene is the one where things are finally going to kick in to high gear, but instead it just sits in neutral and slowly sinks in to the mud. Tomorrowland is a promise of a future never fulfilled and I wish I could believe that was a really deep metaphor and not a punchless script.

There’s one really fantastic sequence in Tomorrowland set in the 1964 World’s Fair with a young boy presenting his entry in to an invention contest and proposing a thesis on the virtue of imagination and technology’s role in inspiring people to dream, we then get some coverage of the fair followed by our first peek in to the titular Tomorrowland. It’s a killer sequence, it’s funny, it’s compelling, it feels consistent with the ideas behind the theme park the inspired this film. Unfortunately, this is the first ten minutes of the film and it never gets back to that level again. Maybe we shouldn’t even be making movies inspired by theme park sections.

The remaining two hours of movie are just so spirit-destroyingly bland. Plucky young NASA fanatic Casey Newton is a character desperately in need of a character trait deeper than “really likes science” or maybe just a visual aesthetic more complex than “wears a hat.” Then there’s Athena, the young precocious British girl who exists solely to dole out secrets at the appropriate times and not get in the way at others. I’m getting quite sick of the precocious British children cliché and maybe the trope should be discarded completely if you feel the need to have the emotional climax of your film to be a prepubescent girl explaining what love means to a man in his 50s. It gets a little creepy. George Clooney is fine, I suppose, he only ever really performs grumpy and somewhat less grumpy but he has enough raw movie star magnetism to steal every scene he’s in. It feels like a waste of his talents but it also feels a bit like he got tricked in to being in this movie, like he met Brad Bird at a party and gushed about how much he loved Iron Giant and signed a blank contract. There’s no chance that’s the real story but I can’t believe Clooney either liked this script or needed this money.

Tomorrowland is disappointing most of all because it is the first misstep from Brad Bird. He’s had a 16-year run of directing exclusively excellent movies (ok Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is only pretty good) and I wanted to believe he could do that forever. That’s the way I identify most with this movie: the same way George Clooney feels let down by the future utopia that never came, I feel like I’ve been let down by my idealized version of Bird. There are no cities with elevated multi-level pools and ample municipal jet packs, just as there are no Spielbergs who never made Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. We can’t live in a perfect world but we can try to live in an interesting one, and that is not one that includes Tomorrowland.