“TOMORROWLAND” (2015) Review

“TOMORROWLAND” (2015) Review

Back in May 2015, the Disney Studios released a movie that did not proved to be successful at the box office. Directed by Brad Bird, the movie got its title – “TOMORROWLAND” – from futuristic themed land found at Disney theme parks.

It is a pity that “TOMORROWLAND” did not prove to be as successful as the Disney Studios had hoped. It struck me as a very unusual film. Superficially, it is a family friendly movie about a disillusioned genius inventor and a teenage science enthusiast, who embark upon a journey to an ambiguous dimension known as “Tomorrowland”, where they believe their actions can directly affect both the world and themselves. On another level, “TOMORROWLAND” produced an emotional reaction within me that truly took a cynical person like myself, by surprise.

The story begins with the adult Frank Walker telling an off-screen audience about when he had attended the 1964-1965 New York Fair as a child, and his attempt to present the jet pack he had invented to be used as an exhibit at the Fair. When his jet pack is rejected by a man named David Nix, young Frank is approached by a girl named Athena, who sees great potential within him. Athena gives Frank a pin with a “T” symbol and instructs him to follow her aboard the new It’s a Small World” attraction, created by Walt Disney’s engineers for his Disneyland theme park. Frank follows Athena, Nix and a group of other people and ends up transported to the futuristic cityscape, “Tomorrowland”, when his pin is scanned.

At this point, the narration shifts to the adolescent Casey Newton, the daughter of a Cape Canaveral engineer, who tries to sabotage the machines that are dismantling the NASA launch pad in order to save her dad’s job. at who sneaks into a decommissioned NASA launch pad in Cape Canaveral, where her father Eddie is an engineer. After one attempt at sabotage, Casey returns home, where Athena sneaks another “T” pin that is programmed to Casey’s DNA into the latter’s motorcycle helmet. The next night, Casey attempts to break into the NASA compound again, but is arrested. At the police station, Casey not only discovers the pin among her personal items, she also discovers that upon contact, the pin instantly shows her a view of “Tomorrowland”. Determined to find the origin of the pin, Casey traces it to a Houston memorabilia store that is owned by a couple that proves to be robots, who attack her. Athena, who also proves to be an Audio-Animatronic robot, rescues Casey and takes her to Frank’s farm in New York. She also tells Casey that the latter and Frank are needed to save the world. And the only way to do that is to head for Tomorrowland.

From a technical point-of-view, “TOMORROWLAND” is a very attractive looking movie. First of all, I have to applaud Scott Chambliss’ production designs for the film. His re-creation of the 1964-1965 New York New York’s World Fair in Flushing Meadows, New York really impressed me. It must have been difficult to re-create not only the event’s physical look, but also the mid-1960s. Then Chambliss went a step further and created the sleek, futuristic look of “Tomorrowland”. If his work does not earn an Academy Award nomination, I will be very surprised. And yes, other members of the crew contributed to Miranda’s production designs. I thought the work of the art direction team, Lin MacDonald’s set decorations, Jeffrey Kurland’s costume designs and especially Claudio Miranda’s sharp and colorful photography truly enhanced the movie’s style and look. I only have one problem – namely Michael Giacchino’s score. Quite honestly, I did not find it memorable.

The movie can also boast some excellent performances. George Clooney was at top form as the adult Frank Walker, who had become weary and cynical after being rejected from “Tomorrowland”. I cannot recall the last time I saw Hugh Laurie in a motion picture. But he was superb as the cool and judgmental leader of “Tomorrowland”, David Nix. I especially enjoyed his performance in the scene in which his character went into a rant over humanity’s foibles. I was surprised to learn that Britt Robertson is 25 years-old. She did an excellent job in portraying a character who seemed to be at least a decade younger. More importantly, she managed to develop a strong screen chemistry with both Clooney and the young actress who portrayed Athena, namely Raffey Cassidy. The latter gave a first-rate performance as the long-living android, who managed to develop some kind of affection toward both Casey and especially Frank. Thomas Robinson was superb as the young Frank. Not only did he have great chemistry with Cassidy, he managed to give an intelligent performance without coming off as an adult in a boy’s body. I also enjoyed the performances of Keegan-Michael Key (of “KEY AND PEELE”) and Kathryn Hahn as the pair of android managers of the Houston memorabilia store, who proved to be both funny and rather scary.

For the likes of me, I tried to understand why this movie had produced so much hostility from the critics and from some moviegoers. In the end, I decided it would be a waste of my time. I cannot control the opinions of others. And quite frankly, I have no desire to do so. I find such efforts rather frustrating and exhausting. All I can do is express my feelings of the movie. Personally? I rather liked it.  “TOMORROWLAND” is such an oddball of a film. Superficially, it struck me as one of those solid Disney family actions films that the studio had been making for the past 60 years or so. But once Frank and Casey reached “Tomorrowland”, the film shifted into a tone that made it quite unique and in the end, I found rather touching. How touching did I find it? Let me put it this way . . . I found myself crying when the movie ended.

I am certain that many who did not like the film would say that I cried over how much of a mess it turned out to be. Perhaps these same fans and critics did not like the shift of tone in the movie’s last half hour or so. I must confess . . . I had a bit of trouble with that shift, myself. Or perhaps they disliked Nix’s rant . . . or the fact that it revealed a great deal of truth about humanity. Nix’s rant made me acknowledge the negative aspects of humanity, something that I tend to complain about to this day. But as George Clooney’s character managed to point out, not all is negative about humanity. Sometimes, we humans can surprise each other in a positive way. Did other moviegoers and critics come to this conclusion? Or did they expect some kind of one-dimensional “good-vs.-evil” conflict that can usually be found in many summer films? Perhaps I should not dwell upon what the audience wanted and focus on my reaction of“TOMORROWLAND”. After all, my opinion should count . . . at least to me.

There is another aspect of the film that I had carried away with me upon leaving the movie theater. I noticed that following Frank’s expulsion by the character Nix and the latter’s intent to ensure the cityscape’s separation from Earth, the dimension known as “Tomorrowland” declined as a community. This outcome reminded me of what seems to me is the decline of today’s culture and originality. Many societies today seem so bent upon either remembering the past (through rose-colored glasses) or rejecting anything remotely original that I find myself wondering if the same happened to “Tomorrowland”, when Nix had decided to close itself off from Earth and the innovations of humans when he discovered the possibility of a worldwide catastrophe. Perhaps that last scene of Frank and Casey entrusting “Tomorrowland” androids (to whom they had been narrating this story) to recruit new “dreamers” from Earth and bring them to “Tomorrowland” is what drove me to tears when I left the theater.

Once again, I found myself encountering another original film that very few seem capable of appreciating or enjoying. I only hope that director Brad Bird and co-screenwriter Damon Lindelof are aware there are some people – including myself – who truly appreciated their creation of “TOMORROWLAND”, along with the cast and crew who worked on this film.

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Ranking of Movies Seen During Summer 2015

Usually I would list my ten favorite summer movies of any particular year. However, I only watched ten new releases during the summer of 2015. Due to the limited number, I decided to rank the films that I saw:

 

 

RANKING OF MOVIES SEEN DURING SUMMER 2015

1. “Jurassic World” – In the fourth movie for the JURASSIC PARK franchise, a new dinosaur created for the Jurassic World theme park goes amok and creates havoc. Directed by Colin Trevorrow, the movie starred Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard.

 

 

2. “Ant-Man” – Convicted thief Scott Lang is recruited to become Ant-Man for a heist in this new entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Directed by Peyton Reed, Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lily and Michael Douglas starred.

 

 

3. “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” – Guy Ritchie directed this adaptation of the 1964-1968 television series about agents for the C.I.A. and KGB working together to fight neo-Nazis in the early 1960s. Armie Hammer, Henry Cavill and Alicia Vikander starred.

 

 

4. “Tomorrowland” – Brad Bird directed this imaginative tale about a a former boy-genius inventor and a scientifically inclined adolescent girl’s search for a special realm where ingenuity is encouraged. George Clooney, Britt Robertson and Hugh Laurie starred.

 

 

5. “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” – Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are forced to prevent an artificial intelligence created by Tony Stark and Bruce Banner from destroying mankind. Joss Whedon wrote and directed this second AVENGERS film.

 

 

6. “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” – Tom Cruise starred in this fifth entry in the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE” film franchise about Ethan Hunt’s efforts to find and destroy a rogue intelligence organization engaged in terrorist activities.

 

 

7. “Mr. Holmes” – Ian McKellen starred in this adaptation of Mitch Cullin’s 2005 novel about the aging Sherlock Holmes’ efforts to recall his last case. Directed by Bill Condon, Laura Linney and Milo Parker co-starred.

 

 

8. “Fantastic Four” – Josh Trank directed this reboot of the Marvel comics series about four young people whose physical form is altered after they teleport to an alternate and dangerous universe. Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Bell starred.

 

 

9. “Entourage” – Doug Ellin wrote and directed this fluffy continuation of the 2004-2011 HBO series about a movie star and his group of friends dealing with a new project. Kevin Connolly, Adrian Grenier, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara and Jeremy Piven starred.

 

 

10. “Terminator: Genisys” – Alan Taylor directed this fifth movie in the TERMINATOR franchise, an unexpected turn of events creates a fractured timeline when Resistance fighter Kyle Reese goes back to 1984 in order to prevent the death of leader John Connor’s mother. Arnold Schwartzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney and Jason Clarke starred.

“LOOPER” (2012) Review

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“LOOPER” (2012) Review

Time travel can be a tricky topic for a fictional story. Some writers can do wonders with a story featuring time traveling. Some writers start out well end up creating a mass of confusion. And other writers . . . well, they end up simply creating a bad story. When I first learned about the premise for the new science-fiction movie, “LOOPER”, I feared I was about to see a time travel movie with a bad plot. 

According to writer/director Rian Johnson’s tale, the United States is in a state of economic collapse in the year 2044. There is social decay, a high rise in crime and a mutation has developed within a small number of the Earth’s population that gives them a telekinetic ability. Thirty years later, time travel has been invented, but immediately outlawed. Tracking technology has made it impossible for criminals to dispose of bodies. Crime bosses use illicit time travel to send their victims back in time, where they are killed by assassins called “loopers”. These assassins are paid with silver bars strapped to the back of their targets. When the crime bosses want to end a looper’s contract, they send his older self back to be killed by his younger self, paying the latter with gold bars as a last payoff. Failure to kill the older self is punishable by death.

Joe Simmons is a looper in 2044 Kansas, whose boss – a time traveler named Abe – is sent back to the past to supervise him and his fellow loopers in the area. Best friend and fellow looper Seth tells Joe that he failed to kill his old self and that the latter informed him of a criminal mastermind named the Rainmaker, who is closing down all loops. Joe eventually betrays Seth in order to maintain his secret stash of silver. Joe’s older self eventually arrives from the past and Joe first kills him. But due to a tragic incident thirty years in the future, Old Joe changes time by escaping to the past on his own. He escapes and Joe tracks him down to a diner, where he tells Joe that the Rainmaker sent him back to be killed, and that Old Joe’s wife was killed during his capture. Old Joe killed his captors and traveled back to kill the Rainmaker as a child. Joe attempts to kill Old Joe and fulfill his contract, but both of them flee when they are attacked by Abe’s hit men or “Gat Men”. Due to a piece of a map in Old Joe’s possession, Joe finds a string of digits that leads him to farm owned by a woman named Sara, who lives with her son, Cid. Meanwhile, Old Joe uses the remaining digits on the map to track down the location of three candidates who might turn out to be the Rainmaker as a child. Old Joe intends to kill all three to prevent his future wife’s death.

Sounds complicated? Trust me, that was only the beginning. For reasons that escape me, Rian Johnson, along with Kimberly Amacker and the rest of the movie’s makeup team decided to use prosthetic makeup to ensure that Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who portrayed the younger Joe Simmons, bear some resemblance to Bruce Willis. They hired Kazuhiro Tsuji for the job. Tsuji did his best in altering Gordon-Levitt’s looks, but in the end, it all depended more on the actor’s performance to make the transformation work. A part of me feels that his prosthetic makeup was not really necessary.

Also, complicated time travel stories such as the one for “LOOPER” tend to turn me off. Dealing with the subject of time travel is bad enough. But I tend to view complicated plot twists, such as the ones found in “LOOPER” as impossible to follow. But thanks to Rian Johnson’s direction and script, I found the movie surprisingly easy to follow . . . aside from one particular scene. I might as well talk about the latter. The sequence featuring Old Joe’s first escape from death at the hands of Joe ended with the latter falling out of the window of his apartment. The movie never made it clear whether he lived or died. But the next scene featured Old Joe’s reappearance at the fatal cornfield again. This time, Joe killed Old Joe, leaving me somewhat confused. Was there a time reset of some kind? It finally occurred to me that Johnson simply revealed that Old Joe had escaped death, left his fate a mystery . . . and then went back to how this scenario came to be. In other words, following Old Joe’s second appearance in the cornfield, audiences learn of the circumstances that led to that moment – Joe’s murder of Old Joe, his retirement as a looper, his years in China as a hired killer, his marriage and eventually, his wife’s death. The latter drove Old Joe over the edge and he set out time travel on his own, prevent his younger self from killing him and kill the younger self of the Rainmaker, before the latter can grow and cause the death of his wife. Now, I understood.

Once I realized what was going on, I was able to enjoy “LOOPER” a lot more. Not only did Johnson create a fascinating tale in which time travel played a heavy role, he created some fascinating characters – especially the leading one, Joe Simmons. Johnson did an excellent job in showing how the time traveling not only affected Joe Simmons’ character, but was also responsible for the creation of the Rainmaker. I was amazed at how Johnson’s story revealed the ugly consequences of time travel in a way no other writer or filmmaker has done before. His story also developed from the typical science-fiction action thriller into a poignant, character-driven tale about the consequences of grief and revenge. By the time I left the movie theater, I realized that I had seen one of the most original science-fiction thrillers in recent years.

“LOOPER” also had the good luck to have some first-rate performers to grace its cast. The movie featured interesting performances from the likes of Paul Dano, who gave an emotional performance as the looper Seth, who set things in motion by warning Joe about the Rainmaker. I also enjoyed the performances of Noah Segan, who gave a colorful performance as Abe’s main “Gat Man”, Kid Blue, who is eager to earn his boss’ respect by going after Joe; Piper Perabo’s sexy take on showgirl Suzy; Qing Xu, who projected the perfect air of sensibility and calm for Old Joe; and Garret Dillahunt, who oozed intelligence and danger as another “Gat Man”, who manages to track down Joe to the Kansas farmhouse.

But there were performances that really impressed me. One of them came from Jeff Daniels, who was an absolute delight as the sharp-tongued crime boss Abe. His advice to Joe about relocating to China upon retirement turned out to be one of the movie’s highlights. Emily Blunt acquired an impressive American accent for her role as Sara, the practical farm owner that gave Joe shelter. Not only was I impressed by her different accent, but also her performance and strong screen presence. I cannot say enough about Pierce Gagnon, the child actor who portrayed Sara’s son, Cid. Gagnon gave one of the best child performances I have seen in years . . . and one of the creepiest. Of the entire cast, Joseph Gordon-Levitt had the most difficult role. Not only did he have to capture many aspects of Bruce Willis’ portrayal of the older Joe, but also the older actor’s speech pattern, body language and screen persona. And too my surprise, he stood up to the plate and knocked it out of the ballpark. I can also say the same Bruce Willis’ performance as Old Joe. Sure, his usual wise ass screen persona was there . . . somewhat. But he also took his character beyond the usual persona and to greater heights by portraying Old Joe as a man caught up in his grief over a dead wife and obsessed with vengeance and determination to change time.

I would not say that “LOOPER” was perfect. Instead of writing a clear and straight narrative that a story of this complexity needed, director-writer Rian Johnson tried to be a little clever in explaining Old Joe’s arrival in the past. And I feel that the prosthetic makeup for Joseph Gordon-Levitt was unnecessary. But despite these quibbles, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this movie. Johnson, along with an excellent cast led by Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, delivered one of the most original movies I have seen in years.