Movie reviews: Tomorrowland, Poltergeist and The New Girlfriend

22 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

By George, I’m Baffled: Clooney’s new film about a jet-pack-wearing boy who travels into the future should be lots of fun – but it’s not, writes BRIAN VINER.

Adventure/action/family. Prominent on a wall in Tomorrowland, a futuristic city full of twisted skyscrapers and aerial highways, is a nice line from Albert Einstein: ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge.’ The youngsters at whom this overlong Disney film is notionally aimed have little or no chance of understanding much of what’s going on. But, unlike the rollicking fun of Pirates of the Caribbean, this one sacrifices story on the altar of gorgeous visuals and impressive special effects. Featuring a jittery and uncomfortable-looking George Clooney as Frank Walker, who went to the 1964 New York World’s Fair as a boy and then became a paranoid recluse living in a high-tech fortress, the film is a bloated, misconceived mess full of bad taste and bad judgment, including the scary abuse of humanoid robots in a film rated a child-friendly PG.

Just less than two hours in, the storyline suddenly comes into focus courtesy of the bad guy’s speech, and it is a g-o-o-d speech, but it’s too little, too late. When we first meet the prepubescent Frank (Thomas Robinson), he is showing his invention, a jet pack with Electrolux fuel canisters, to dismissive World’s Fair official David Nix (Hugh Laurie).

That rather significant drawback apart, there is plenty to enjoy, not least a spirited performance by young British actress Raffey Cassidy, who holds her own even in scenes with George Clooney. Cert: 12A It was always a wonder to me why, after choosing a palette of perfectly picked films, Gorgeous George was moving into the realm of the family movie. The idea is sound, it’s just this film of ideas (the most obvious being Disney’s favourite message of be positive and you will solve all the world’s problems) is not supported by its story and ends up being dull. Frank also meets the perky and mysterious Athena (12-year-old at the time Raffey Cassidy), who gives him a pin and invites him on a water ride, where he is transported to the future. Then, in one of the film’s many disconcerting narrative lurches, we are introduced to Casey (the excellent Britt Robertson), the teenage daughter of a soon-to-be-unemployed Nasa engineer, who is fed up with her teachers telling her the world is going to hell in a handcart, and wants someone to suggest ways in which the handcart might be directed elsewhere.

Newton, as in Isaac, I presume, uses a drone and electronic devices to sabotage a NASA installation because she wants to save her engineer father’s job. Finally, the intrepid trio (Athena the robot, played by Raffey Cassidy, makes up the third part) make it to Tomorrowland and this is when the story starts going somewhere. After much mutual suspicion, they find a common enemy in some sinister androids, and a friend in Athena, though she is not quite what she appears to be, either.

I have such a hankering for these dystopian films, mainly because the future always looks so overblown and fun, and in this respect, Brad Bird does not disappoint. It’s the oddest of Disney films, terrific action sequences cheek by jowl with philosophical speechifying, as if Bird, who showed his credentials with the delightful 2004 animation The Incredibles, couldn’t quite rein in the impulse to tell us what he thinks about the world. Directed by Brad Bird (“The Incredibles,” “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol”) and co-written by him and Damon Lindelof, “Tomorrowland” is replete with the brand of hokum we associate with Lindelof’s screenplays for “Prometheus” and “Star Trek: Into Darkness.” It’s Lindelof-land, folks.

A line about the grotesque irony of there being simultaneous epidemics of obesity and starvation is put in the mouth of Laurie’s character, but plainly it’s the writers speaking. Of course, it’s fine to festoon even a children’s film with worthwhile messages about humanity, especially the message that theirs is the generation that must finally put right the mistakes of their forebears. The film, which not even the legendary editor Walter Murch (“Apocalypse Now”) could make sense of, suggests we are headed to global destruction because we secretly desire it and all we need to do to change course is think more optimistically.

Nearing the end, Tomorrowland: A World Beyond runs clean out of steam (no mean feat for a film running at full locomotive pelt) when Hugh Laurie’s power-hungry Nix delivers an unending message-laden monologue. Verified email addresses: All users on Independent Media news sites are now required to have a verified email address before being allowed to comment on articles.

Clooney and Laurie, if you can imagine such a thing, play second fiddle to the youngsters: Thomas Robinson, in the role of young Frank, is adorable, while Raffey Cassidy is ethereal and kick-ass when the situation calls for it. Their three children are engagingly played, with a particularly fine performance by Kyle Catlett as young Griffin, who hears creaks and sees ghosts even where there aren’t any, and then suffers the cosmic misfortune of moving to a house positively stuffed with them. Adding ballast to the basic plot — nice, ordinary family take up residence in seemingly nice, ordinary house, only to find that it has been built over an old cemetery and is besieged by furious poltergeists — are most of the standard horror cliches. But director Gil Kenan tries to justify the decision to breathe life back into the iconic brand with a host of 21st-century accessories — flat-screen tellies, iPhones, iPads and so on, well and truly putting the Apple into apple-pie Americana. And, inevitably, the special-effects — as the youngest child, Maddy, is kidnapped by the grotesque spirits — are much slicker than first time around.

It all gets a little silly, though, especially with the arrival of Jared Harris as Irish poltergeist-buster Carrigan Burke, who finds that the house is ‘unloike anything oi’ve ever seen before’. Silliness is almost a prerequisite of horror films, of course, but when they are sillier than they are scary, then they have to be marked down as a fail. It was the idea of famed producer Sam Raimi to conjure up a retread of the classic, and given the bounty of effects wizardry and other Hollywood hocus pocus, the timing certainly seemed right. Though the kids hate their new, downsized home, it’s large and labyrinthine enough to have plenty of creepy corridors, dark corners and unused attics (where were they living before?

Eric and Amy ignore all of this to their peril, and live to regret it when their daughter Madison (Kennedi Clements) gets snatched by some restless souls in the wardrobe, and can only communicate from her new purgatory through the widescreen TV in the living room. The family call upon the local paranormal expert Claire (Jane Adams) and Carrigan Burke (Jared Harris), an Irish ghost-chaser with his own reality TV show, to bring her back to this realm. Just as the genre demands, there are plenty of jumpy moments (mainly involving those pesky clown dolls), and one seriously nerve-jangling scene where Claire’s assistant (Nicholas Braun) almost comes a cropper with an electric drill.

In a slight departure from the original, the back story of the Bowens is played out extensively; Amy is a writer down on her luck, while Eric is a proud man pushed to his limits with a fruitless job search. The New Girlfriend doesn’t boast the Hollywood razzle-dazzle of this week’s other offerings, but you’d be hard pressed to find a more compelling screen presence than Romain Duris.

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