“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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“SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN” (2012) Review

 

“SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN” (2012) Review

The past ten months has been a busy period for the Brothers Grimm. During that period, there have been two television shows and two movies that featured their work. At least one television series and the two movies retold the literary pair’s story about Snow White, including the recent film, “SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN”.

Directed by Rupert Sanders; and written by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini, “SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN” is a twist on the Snow White tale in which the Huntsman not only becomes the princess’ savior, but also her protector and mentor. In this tale, Snow White is a princess of Tabor and the daughter of King Magnus and Queen Eleanor. After the Queen’s death, King Magnus marries a beautiful woman named Ravenna after rescuing her from an invading force of glass soldiers. As it turns out, Ravenna is a powerful sorceress that controls the glass soldiers. She kills Magnus on their wedding night and seizes control of Tabor. Duke Hammond and his son William (Snow White’s childhood friend) manages to escape the castle. But Snow White is captured by Ravenna’s brother Finn and imprisoned in one of the castle’s towers.

As a decade passes, Ravenna drains the youth from the kingdom’s young women in order to maintain her youth and beauty. When Snow White comes of age, Ravenna learns from her Magic Mirror that the former is destined to destroy her, unless she consumes the young woman’s heart. When Finn is ordered to bring Snow White before Ravenna, the princess manages to escape into the Dark Forest. Eric the Huntsman is a widower who has survived the Dark Forest, and is brought before Ravenna. She orders him to lead Finn in pursuit of Snow White, in exchange for her promise to revive his dead wife. But when Eric learns from Finn that Ravenna will not be able to resurrect his wife, he helps Snow White escape through the Forest. Snow White later promises him gold if he would escort her to Duke Hammond’s Castle. Meanwhile, the Duke’s son William manages to infiltrate Finn’s band in order to find Snow White on his own.

What can I say about “SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN”? It is not perfect. Well . . . I had at least two minor and one major problems with the movie. The two minor problems centered around the performances of Chris Hemsworth (Eric the Huntsman) and Charlize Theron (Ravenna). Basically, both gave first-rate performances. I cannot deny that. But . . . there were moments during the movie’s first half hour in which I found it difficult to comprehend Hemsworth’s accent? Was he trying to use a working-class Scots or English accent? Or was he using his own Australian accent? I could not tell. As for Theron . . . she had a few moments of some truly hammy acting. But only a few moments. But the major problem centered around the character of Snow White.

The movie’s final showpiece featured a battle between Snow White and Ravenna’s forces at Tabor’s Castle. The battle also featured the princess fighting along with both Eric and William. When on earth did Snow White learn combat fighting? When? She spent most of the movie’s first thirty minutes either as a young girl or imprisoned in the Castle. I figured that Eric, William or both would teach her how to fight in combat before their forces marched back to Tabor. The movie featured a scene in which Eric taught Snow White on how to stab someone up close . . . but nothing else.

The only reasons I wanted to see “SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN” were the visual effects and the fact that I was a fan of ABC’s “ONCE UPON A TIME”. That is it. Otherwise, I would not have bothered to pay a ticket to see this film. But I am glad that I did. Because I enjoyed it very much, despite its flaws. Thanks to Daugherty, Hancock and Amini’s script, “SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN” is part epic, part road movie, part fantasy horror tale and part romance. For me, all of these aspects made this tale about Snow White fascinating to me. And Snow White has never been one of my favorite fairy tales. Director Rupert Sanders not only meshed these attributes into an exciting movie. More importantly, his direction gave the movie a steady pace. I find it amazing that “SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN” is Sanders’ first feature film.

The most interesting aspect about the film was its love triangle between Snow White, Eric and William. Although Eric was originally supposed to be nothing more than a savior and mentor for Snow White, someone made the decision to add a little spice to their relationship. I suspect that this had something to do with Hemsworth’s age and his chemistry with star Kristin Stewart. The movie did not end with Snow White romantically clenched with one man or the other. Although some people were either disturbed or annoyed at this deliberately vague ending, I was not. I suspect that if Snow White had chosen either Eric or William, she would not have found her choice an easy one – either politically or romantically.

There are other aspects of “SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN” that I found admirable. One, I was impressed by Dominic Watkins’ production designs, which ranged from horror to light fantasy. I was afraid that the movie would visually turn out to be another fantasy production with another second-rate “LORD OF THE RINGS” look about it. Watkins’ designs were ably enhanced by the special effects team led by Vince Abbott and Greig Fraser’s beautiful photography. And I loved Colleen Atwood’s costume designs. She did a great job for most of the cast. But her designs for Charlize Theron’s evil queen were outstanding. Take a look:

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The performances featured in “SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN” struck me as pretty damn good. The revelations of the actors portraying the Seven Dwarfs took me by surprised. Toby Jones was the first to catch my eye. Then I realized that a who’s who of well known British character actors were portraying the dwarves – Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Nick Frost, Ray Winstone, and Eddie Marsan. They were all entertaining, especially Hoskins, McShane and Marsan. More importantly, I was very impressed by their roles in the movie’s final battle. Sam Spruell’s performance as Ravenna’s sleazy brother Finn sruck me as almost as frightening as Charlize Theron’s Queen Ravenna. But only almost. Despite her moments of hammy acting, Theron nearly scared the pants off me, making her Evil Queen just as frightening as the one featured in the 1937 Disney animated film.

I must admit that I was not that impressed by Sam Claflin’s performance as the missionary in last year’s “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES”. But I suspect that was due to the role he was stuck with. “SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN” provided him with a much better role as the aristocratic William, who felt guilty over his and his father’s failure to prevent Snow White’s imprisonment following the King’s death. Not only was Claflin was able to strut his stuff in a more interesting role and prove that he could be a first-rate action hero; he also had surprisingly great chemistry with both Stewart and Hemsworth. As for the Australian actor, he was superb as the grieving huntsman, Eric. Okay, I had a few problems with his questionable accent during the movie’s first half hour. However, he overcame that flaw and gave a great and emotionally satisfying performance as a man whose destructive grieving was overcome by his relationship with Snow White. And he also proved that he was more than an action star in a scene in which he gave a beautiful soliloquy regarding Eric’s feelings for the princess. The belle of the ball – at least for me – was actress Kristen Stewart. I must be honest. I am not a fan of the “TWILIGHT” movies or Stewart’s role of Bella Swann. But I certainly enjoyed her performance as Snow White in this film. For the first time, Stewart seemed to be portraying a character that seemed animated, interesting and pro-active. She has great chemistry with both Hemsworth and Claflin. And she did surprisingly well in the action sequences . . . especially in Snow White’s confrontation with Ravenna. I hope to see Stewart in more roles like this.

I heard rumors that due to the movie’s surprising success, Universal Pictures hopes to release a sequel to “SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN”. I do not know if this is a good idea. Do not get me wrong. I enjoyed the movie very much, despite its flaws. The script proved to be an interesting mixture of fantasy, horror, comedy, romance and a road trip. And the cast, led by Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron, was first-rate. But considering how the movie ended, I simply do not see the need or possibility for a sequel. Besides, I felt more than satisfied with this particular film.

“DARK SHADOWS” (2012) Review

“DARK SHADOWS” (2012) Review

I have never been a diehard fan of director Tim Burton. Honestly. In fact, I can only think of one or two of his movies that really impressed me. Okay, I can think of two . . . before I saw his latest opus, “DARK SHADOWS”

The last Burton film that really impressed me was his 2007 Oscar-nominated film, “SWEENEY TODD”. I did not love it. And I have no desire to see it again. But it did impress me. So, when I discovered that he did a big screen adaptation of the 1966-71 ABC television series, I reacted with mild interest. I have never seen the old television series. And to be honest, I have no real desire to watch it. It was the humor featured in the trailer for Burton’s new film that led me to see it.

“DARK SHADOWS” told the story of Barnabas Collins, the 18th century scion of a wealthy Colonial family, who is transformed into a vampire by a scorned lover named Angelique Bouchard, who also happened to be a Collins family servant and a witch. After transforming him into a vampire, Angelique led a lynch mob that captures Barnabas and buries him alive in a chained coffin in the woods. Two hundred years later in 1972, a group of construction workers accidentally free Barnabas, before he feeds on them. He later makes his way back to the Collins manor and finds it inhabited by his mid 20th century descendants; family matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, her 15 year-old daughter Carolyn Stoddard, Elizabeth’s brother Roger Collins, his 10 year-old son David; and their servants who are caretaker Willie Loomis and David’s governess, Victoria Winters, who is a reincarnation of Barnabas’ lost love, Josette du Pres. One last occupant is David’s live-in psychiatrist, Dr. Julia Hoffman.

Barnabas convinces Elizabeth of his identity when he reveals a secret room behind the fireplace. The room contains a vast treasure that can help the Collins family restore the family business. However, Elizabeth makes him promise to never reveal his identity as a vampire to the rest of the family. All seemed to be well for the Collins family, until Angelique, who has used magic to extend her life, discovers that Barnabas has been released from his coffin. Angelique has also used her own fishery business to bankrupt the family. Upset that Barnabas has returned, Angelique tries to win back his affections through sex. However, Barnabas makes it clear that he does not love her. And Angelique goes out of her way to ensure the destruction of Barnabas and his immediate family.

“DARK SHADOWS” is not perfect. I am quite aware that it is not ensemble piece, despite the likes of Michelle Pfieffer and Helena Bonham-Carter in the cast. I also realize that is basically about Barnabas Collins. But I do believe that two or three supporting characters were barely used in the story. And those characters proved to be young David Collins, Dr. Julia Hoffman (portrayed by the marvelous Helena Bonham-Carter) and Roger Collins, portrayed by the woefully underused Jonny Lee Miller. And I wish the movie had explained how Angelique managed to survive and not age for two centuries. From what I had read, this was never explained in the television version either. I also found the revelation of Carolyn Stoddard as a werewolf near the end of the movie, very contrived. Either screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith had failed to hint this revelation or I simply failed to notice any his hint(s). And I also found the movie’s pacing slightly uneven three-quarters into the story. I suspect that Burton and his screenwriter, Seth Grahame-Smith, were in such a hurry to get rid of Roger Collins and Dr. Hoffman that the pacing somewhat became off-kilter.

But despite its flaws, I still managed to enjoy “DARK SHADOWS” very much. First of all, I was dazzled by Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography. He gave it a rich, blue-tinted look that really contributed to the film’s setting and tale. This was especially apparent in the prologue that introduced the Collins family’s American origins and Barnabas Collins. Delbonnel’s photography also enhanced Rick Heinrichs’ production designs. Heinrichs did a beautiful job in re-creating both the mid and late-18th century Maine, along with the same location in 1972. And I feel he was ably supported by Chris Lowe’s art direction team, John Bush’s set decorations and Colleen Atwood’s beautiful costume designs.

Although I was somewhat critical of Grahame-Seth’s screenplay, I do not believe it was not a complete waste. In fact, I thought it was wise of him to center the main narrative around Barnabas Collins. The latter’s attempts to assimilate into the early 1970s had me shaking with laughter. And Grahame-Seth was wise to not only enrich Barnabas’ love for Josette du Pres and later, Victoria Winters; but also his concerns for his family. Family seemed to be very important to Barnabas, which allowed Grahame-Seth to focus more on Victoria and the Collins family . . . even Roger. Barnabas’ concerns for his family also made his conflict with Angelique Bouchard even more pressing. I am also glad that both Burton and Grahame-Seth’s portrayal of Barnabas was complex. They allowed him to feed on other human beings without labeling him as evil. Barnabas feeds on the blood of others to survive, just as we humans feed on other living beings – both animals and plants. He does not like feeding on others anymore than he likes being a vampire. There is no taint of one-dimensional morality that has marred television series like “BUFFY, THE VAMPIRE SLAYER”“ANGEL” and “CHARMED”. Several critics and many of the old television series also criticized Burton’s film for not being a close adaptation of the show. I find their criticisms a little irrelevant, due to the fact that I have yet to see a film adaptation of a television series to be that particularly close to its original source.

The cast for “DARK SHADOWS” is first-rate. Even those performers forced into roles that were not fully explored did a great job. It was nice to see Burton’s willingness to use again, actor Christopher Lee, who had a brief appearance as the top fisherman of Collinsport, Maine. I have never seen Jonny Lee Miller portrayed such a negative role like Roger Collins. And despite the minimal exposure, he did a great job of expressing Roger’s shallowness and lack of concern for his son and other members of the family. Helena Bonham-Carter was hilariously entertaining as young David Collins’ live-in psychiatrist, who developed a crush on Barnabas. It wsa nice to see Jackie Earle Haley again, who was also rather funny as the Collins family’s caretaker, Willie Loomis. I wish I could say something nice about Bella Heathcote. But her performance as Victoria Winters struck me as a little too ethereal and . . . wooden. Gulliver McGrath gave a sweet performance as young David Collins, but he did not strike me as particularly memorable.

For me, the best performances came from lead actor Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfieffer, Eva Green and Chloë Grace Moretz. The latter has certainly grown a lot since I first saw her in “KICK ASS”, two years ago. I find her take on the fifteen year-old Carolyn Stoddard to be very eccentric (in a positive way). She also seemed to be a younger version of Michelle Pfieffer, who portrayed her imperious mother, Elizabeth Collins Stoddard. I thought that Pfieffer was spot on as the indomitable matriarch of the Collins family, who hid her ruthlessly passionate and maternal nature behind a reserved facade. Eva Green nearly scared me out of my wits with her frightening portrayal of Angelique Bouchard, the witch who developed an obsessive love for Barnabas. Apparently, Angelique’s love and hatred proved to be so strong that she continued to slowly destroy the Collins family, long after Barnabas was locked in a coffin. Johnny Depp has portrayed some memorable characters over the years. But I must admit that his take on the Barnabas Collins character has proven to be one of my favorites. The man was superb. I could describe his performance with as many adjectives as possible. But it would take a great deal of my time. All I can say is that I believe he was perfect.

I realize that “DARK SHADOWS” has disappointed many fans of the old 1966-71 television series. And I must admit that I found a few aspects of Seth Grahame-Smith’s screenplay rather questionable. But “DARK SHADOWS” proved to be an entertaining movie thanks to Tim Burton’s direction, the story’s concentration on the Barnabas Collins, Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography and the excellent cast led by the always talented Johnny Depp.