Darke Reviews – Tomorrowland (2015)

For those that know me and what I do for my 9-5 you know I am an inherent pessimist. I get a glimpse of the darkness of mankind and the general evil of the world. Its a very narrow peephole into that which is wrong. I frequently expect the worst out of people, places, and overall events; which are then almost as frequently proven right. I am rarely disappointed or surprised in this regard. What you don’t know about me, what I don’t show in a world that is little more than pain – is hope. I believe in hope. I believe in heroes. I * want* more out of the world and part of the reason for this blog (aside from reviews) is to deliver that. It’s a small act, but one I take seriously. This is important to understand as you read this review.

Brad Bird (Incredibles, Iron Giant, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) returns to us with a project right up his alley. He wanted the directors chair and took up the pen as well. Sadly he wasn’t the only one to take up the pen on this one, with Damon Lindelof having done much of the original work on the film. Lindelof, for my opinion, has damaged every project he has been on. Let me give four examples:

All four of these movies have something in common – their pacing blows. No sugar coating here. In the WWZ review I mention how Lindelof is the one responsible for the worst parts of Cowboys and Aliens and Prometheus. I am pretty sure the point holds true here. Lindelof needs to be stopped. Please.

Based on previous works, it is very clear where Bird and Lindelof intersected and where they didn’t. I won’t go into the story itself as it is best experienced, but the movie does have some horrific pacing issues. The House of Mouse will also have it’s day as well and their influence is clear – and appropriate in this one. Bird tends to tell stories that are designed to inspire people to be more. Even superheroes who must be more than they were and that has not changed here. There is something inspiring to the story.

Bird also directs well here. A combination of George Clooneys raw acting chops and natural charisma and Brads directing allow both children in the film to really hold their own. Our heroine Britt Robertson (Secret Circle, Under the Dome) is a breath of fresh air. She is able to blend the dual role of audience surrogate and protagonist seamlessly. The concept of the audience surrogate is a character in the film who asks the questions you are thinking and generally is there to connect you to the story. They tend to be bland or “everymen” so it is easy to ‘imprint’ yourself on them; see Rupert Evans as John Myers in Hellboy as a prime example. The challenge is to make them relatable and still bland enough to carry you with them. Robertson does it with apparent ease. She drives the story forward and is something more, special…inspiring; yet still asks what we would be thinking and generally speaking acts as a normal human confronted with the bizarre. Young Raffey Cassidy (Snow White and the Huntsman, Dark Shadows) also holds her own. She makes her part believable and endearing, she acts with a skill of those twice or even three times her age (13 by the way). She actually outshines Clooney in a few scenes. In a way she reminds me of Kirsten Dunst from Interview with the Vampire. She performs that well and with subtlety in nearly every scene. The supporting cast is actually just as interesting with Hugh Laurie (House) and Keegan-Michael Key (Key and Peele), Pierce Gagnon (Looper), Tim McGraw (yes, the Tim McGraw) all do remarkably well with the time they are given and are both memorable and relatable – another hard combo it seems.

From a technical standpoint, the pacing issues are pretty bad. It takes awhile to get going and stutters more than a few times. As an FX movie there is some interesting CG work early on that bothered me until I realized the intent – which was to create a very Jetsons like image to the world it exists in. Beyond that the film has some rather innovative shots and effects. There is enough that is both set and practical to let you focus on that and ignore the errant graphics that may surround it. They actually got the lighting right during the green screen scenes enough that I believed for a brief, brief, moment – someone had a functional jetpack.

What impresses me most about the movie is that much like Ex Machina – it embraces science. It tells us that while the world around us may try to burn by our hand or another that we shouldn’t give  up hope. That we keep trying. That we innovate. That we invent. That we care to make change. That caring and then doing is needed to really make a difference. That science, music, and art (two of which are fading from american schools) are what we need to make the world a better place. I want that better place. I want the better place they gave us. I want more hope and this movie inspired that. It tells you that *anyone*, *anywhere* can be that person who can make a difference. While the main cast is caucasian, the movie shows that the next generation can and will be from anywhere and any gender. They go to great lengths, (maybe a bit much at times) to make it clear that women DO belong in the scientific field and should be there more than the are. The movie can give hope to people to enter those fields and change the world.

We need that. We really do.

TL:DR

Tomorrowland is a good movie. It’s better than average overall. It didn’t take me on a fast paced romp, that I think I was expecting, but it really was enjoyable. We need more movies like this. We need the Hope and the Inspiration. For that alone – go see it

Kids can see it without much fear, there’s some mild violence but nothing too bad.

Adults should see it as a general rule, parents especially.

It’s a good movie and needs our support. It’s a good movie because it is about something. We need that too.

I am ready for Tomorrowland, are you?

 

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Darke Reviews – Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

If the hype machine was in full swing for Age of Ultron and we got what we did as a result, you could understand me getting some slightly chilled feet as I bought my ticket to Mad Max tonight. 99% certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes? A certain group of individuals going nuts over it in a negative way (which can only be a good thing)? Every single word of mouth reviewer I have heard of even in passing loving it? How can this be? Does it actually live up to all that positive word of mouth or is it another case of Hollywood and the Press jumping in bed together for something illicit and a bit dirty?

Let’s take a look under the hood shall we?

According to Cracked, George Miller is good at precisely two things – Mad Max and anthropomorphic animals. Thats right this man directed all of the previous Max films and Happy Feet. The connection is clear to me; of course I am also sleep deprived as I write this so there could be some really cool hallucinations going on here. Miller is also one of the three writers on the film adding the talents of newcomers to the script scene of Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris. McCarthy is a storyboard artist and visual consultant in his previous works and I believe his talents helped Miller envision many of the shots in the film to make it what it was. Lathouris, on the other hand, is no novice to the Mad Max Franchise, having played a part in the original 1979 film. By their powers combined they have matched action and storytelling. They gave us a world we shouldn’t want to imagine and made it touchable. There are those who say this is Max 1.5 picking up after the events in the 79. I would disagree and argue that instead this truly is part 4. Let me explain.

The movie introduces us to a barely vocal Max (Tom Hardy) who is just barely above your average survivalist animal in a post apocalyptic landscape. Why is there an apocalypse? Fuel wars. More than that doesn’t actually matter and they don’t bother to explain – which is good. This Max is haunted by his past failures and is clearly going insane from his enforced isolation and continued existence in a kill or be killed bleak world. Max doesn’t even classify as human at the beginning of the film, living as a creature of instinct. That is of course until during the course of events he runs into Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) who changes  everything for the nomad. The man that they give us is so deeply traumatized his guilt wracked visions have near physical impact on him. By the end of ’79 Max, he was a force of vengeance, but not haunted. After all the carnage and deaths of Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome – now I believe the evolution to today’s Max.

From an acting perspective, it is absolutely abundantly clear that Hardy (Bane from Batman) spent a lot of time studying Mel Gibsons performances. He aped the mans facial expressions, nervous ticks, and even speech patterns making Max feel near seamless; even against the different face. He is a broken man who just wants to be alone; yet still wants to do the right thing per his old job as a cop. This is one of Hardy’s best performances to date reminding me a bit of Kurt Russell in Soldier where a good actor is put to the test using minimalism. While not nearly as minimalist, there are enough similarities and Hardy pulls it off. Charlize Theron (Hancock, Italian Job, Snow White, etc) continues to prove there isn’t a role she is not capable of. She is a physical presence on screen as much as she is a force of personality that you believe can do whatever she damn well pleases. Some are decrying the strength of the character, but it is that very strength that pulls Max in.

Other cast include Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies, and Beast from X-men), Zoe Kravitz (X-men first class), Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (Transformers 3 – don’t hold it against her), Riley Keough (The Runaways, Kiss of the Damned), and the incomparable Nathan ‘Colossus’ Jones (Fearless, The Protector). New comer Abbey Lee makes a memorable performance who at times reminded me of a certain Khaleesi. We also have another Mad Max alum in Hugh Keayes-Byrne, coming in as a new role in our villainous Immortan Joe. Each and every performance mentioned above is memorable in their own ways within the film and clearly act their heart out under Millers direction.

Lets talk tech for a second. I have been heard saying how awesome I think this movie is for its reliance on practical effects where possible. That means for those who don’t live and breathe movies that every car you see – is real. Nearly every crash you see – is real. Not only did they make these vehicles, they destroyed them just as much. I almost imagine the conversation went like this –

Movie Makers: “<insert Trick My/Pimp my XXXX here>, we’re making a Mad Max movie and need some vehicles. What is something crazy you’ve wanted to do to a car?”

Vehicle Guys: “Tank treads on a cadillac….” *snickers as they say it*

MM: “Ooh good start. Can you make it?”

VG: “Serious? Like …this isn’t a joke?”

MM: “No…but can you go even a bit crazier. We have four Taiko drums we want to use too…”

These vehicles are NUTS! Knowing all of them are real and all of them function just makes the movie richer. Something else that does? Narrative arc. The film really is a 2 hour car chase as promised; however, unlike Ultron, they wisely paced it. There are lulls in the action for you to catch your breath. There is slight tension to let you know it isn’t over. The movie just works on this level with rises and falls of action that make both narrative sense, visual beauty, and cognitive pacing. You can follow the action. You can understand the slow parts. and they work in balance with each other.

TL;DR?

This is  2 hour thrill ride of solid filmmaking. If you are an action movie die hard, car lover, Max lover…or are in any way approving of this genre – this is the movie we’ve been waiting on since John Wick. This is the movie we need.  I want Hollywood to take note of WHY this works and learn from it. We deserve good movies like this.

George Miller knocked it out of the park on this one and deserves our support.

If you aren’t into the genre, there’s always Pitch Perfect 2 this weekend (review pending screening tomorrow); but you can avoid it. Otherwise- go see this movie. Make it the hit it deserves to be.