“Tomorrowland” reviews: Critics call George Clooney’s blockbuster-hopeful …

23 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Tomorrowland’ Never Knows: Brad Bird on His Science-Geek Summer Flick.

Disney’s movie Tomorrowland opens this weekend and will very likely top the box office for the Memorial Day holiday weekend. A few minutes into “Tomorrowland,” it becomes clear that Disney’s latest live-action adventure isn’t going to brood over the apocalypse or depict a purely desolate future.Much of Brad Bird’s Disney sci-fi adventure is terrific fun, but it’s one of the strangest family movies I’ve seen: Bird’s not just making a case for hope, he’s making a furious, near-hysterical case against anti-hope.

The four-day frame could see as many as four other films top the $30 million mark, with the second weekend of “Pitch Perfect 2″ likely leading the rest of the pack with about $38 million, followed by Fox-MGM’s launch of “Poltergeist” at as high as $35 million, the second weekend of Warner Bros.’ “Mad Max: Fury Road” at $33 million, and the fourth weekend of Disney-Marvel’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” at $30 million. “Tomorrowland,” which carries a $180 million pricetag, opened Friday at 3,972 U.S. locations with about $11 million, including $725,000 from Thursday night preview showings at 701 selected sites. After a perplexing prologue in which George Clooney in a futuristic suit addresses an unseen audience, Bird flashes back to perhaps the 20th century’s most enduring symbol of technological optimism: The 1964 New York World’s Fair. How could anyone not be excited by it?” With his new film, Tomorrowland — about an All-American teen genius (Britt Robertson) recruited to join a futuristic secret society of the best and brightest and help save the world — the 56-year-old director wants to turn a new generation on to the glories of intellectual curiosity and good old-fashioned optimism. In “Tomorrowland,” directed by Brad Bird and co-written by Bird and Damon Lindelof (with Jeff Jensen earning a story credit), we first meet Frank Walker (George Clooney), a once bright-eyed young boy with innovative dreams, as a now-hardened cynic in the present day.

Clooney’s character, Frank Walker, is a preteen science nerd who is demonstrating his semifunctional homemade jetpack to a British scientist called Nix played by Hugh Laurie. And given that this former animator (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) is the man who gave us Tom Cruise scaling the Petronas Towers in Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, Bird plans on doing this the only way he knows how: via a big-budget summer blockbuster, complete with special effects, CGI landscapes, robot moppets and George Clooney. She meets an older cynical man named Frank (played by George Clooney) who introduces her to Tomorrowland—a mysterious place where all of the most brilliant minds of the world have established an arcology—their own fantastic Utopia. We learn what shattered Frank’s buoyancy when Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) backtracks to tell her story as a teen determined to save the future of a doomed NASA rocket launch site.

Nix belittles Frank, but a young girl named Athena, who appears to be Nix’s daughter, secretly slips the boy a World’s Fair pin that transports him somewhere fabulous. After finding a mysterious pin secretly given to her by a young British girl, Athena (Raffey Cassidy), Casey is briefly transported to the futuristic world of Tomorrowland. Right before Tomorrowland’s premiere, Rolling Stone spoke to Bird about finding humanity in corporate-tentpole moviemaking, why it may be time for dystopia-chic films to take a break and what The Simpsons taught him about storytelling. With the awe of “Alice in Wonderland” and a hint of the futurism of “WALL-E,” Bird’s “Tomorrowland” feels very much like a Disney-fueled vehicle, but one which heavily cashes in on the power of positive thought — think of the best-seller The Secret, which Lindelof named-dropped while discussing “Tomorrowland.” The movie packs on the cheesy believe-and-you-can-achieve Disney mantra quite heavily, but it’s nevertheless refreshing to see a positive spin on the dreary future that fills the big screen today. “Tomorrowland” has already been labeled the anti-“Hunger Games,” a departure from the typical nihilism. “The future we’re getting fed a steady diet of is sort of post-apocalyptic,” Lindelof told The Huffington Post. “The idea that something kind of terrible happens and now the dregs of humanity are roving the desert in tricked-out cars or shooting arrows at each other, that’s kind of what the future is.” While Lindelof — who, let’s not forget, is the co-creator of “Lost” and HBO’s ultra-depressing “The Leftovers” — admits he loves those types of stories, he wanted to discover what a different kind of future would look like, and whether or not audiences would even want to see it.

This was an era when kids made rockets in garages out of vacuum cleaner parts; when a clean, cheerful “city of the future” inspired awe instead of cynicism. That said, the one movie we watched more than anything else for this was Close Encounters of the Third Kind, because it involves kids, as well as a hero who chases a vision. Each one of those regions has its own unique theme and Tomorrowland is a showcase of futuristic rides and attractions—or at least what seemed futuristic 50 years ago. I’ve been trying to conserve on the water front, and I think, you know, it’s important for everyone to take into consideration their community, and the environment wherever they are.”

Casey Newton is a present-day Florida teen (played by Britt Robertson) whose dad works for NASA overseeing the dismantling of rockets that will never be used. This Memorial Day weekend has shaped up as seemingly lightweight relative to last year when “X-Men: Days of Future Past” opened with $110.6 million.

The film asks more of its audience than simply sitting back and enjoying the movie, most directly in a monologue delivered by the villainous scientist Nix (Hugh Laurie), who blames the predicted demise of mankind on mankind itself. A budding rocket scientist, she’s so outraged by the failure to support the space program, she sends homemade drones to sabotage the equipment — and gets caught.

It’s a moment where “Tomorrowland” breaks the fourth wall and holds the viewers responsible for the apocalypse that could come if we succumb to resignation. “The big cosmic shrug, I don’t get,” Bird said. The director made a point to claim “Tomorrowland” isn’t necessarily a political film, but he does hope that audiences walk away with some sense of desire to contribute to a better future. Casey’s dad poses a riddle that becomes the cornerstone of her worldview, which is, in fact, the film’s worldview: You have two wolves, one representing darkness and despair, the other light and hope. The mix of fantasy with science was very significant for Walt Disney and you can see elements of NASA and Disney’s appreciation for science throughout his work and theme parks.

Casey knows the answer: “The one you feed.” After Casey joins forces with the middle-aged Frank, much of Tomorrowland is time-and-space jumping plus blast-’em-up battles with human-looking robots. So how do you inject a sense of humanity and originality into what is, among other things, a big corporate blockbuster that a major company is releasing into a summer-movie market? Bird has acknowledged the influence of Ayn Rand’s militant individualism, and so the enemies he identifies aren’t, say, the people causing climate change. They’re the doomsaying collective, like the science teacher who drones on about temperature rise and looks dumbly at Casey when she interrupts to ask, “Can we fix it?” Nihilistic groupthink rules our culture, says Bird, and Casey’s positivity makes her a pariah.

Hopefully, though, Tomorrowland and Casey will inspire people—particularly young women—to apply their imaginations and ingenuity to craft a better tomorrow for all of us. I hope neither actress follows Tomorrowland with a plague or Mad Max film — though we all know that in Hollywood, movies with no future are the future. There were bad things happening back then as well, but we thought that there was a bold new world on the horizon, one that would solve problems and battle catastrophes. You’re dealing with this high-quality of writing and juggling several storylines, and you have to make everything work and still boil it down to 22 minutes.

But I’m going with “Itchy & Scratchy & Marge,” because of a sort-of symphonic sequence where all the kids are forced to turn off their TVs and go play. Which is this movie in a nutshell, now that I think about it. 2015 may not bring everything that Back to the Future II promised it would: flying cars, self-lacing shoes, we don’t see ’em happening over the next 12 months. (Then again, don’t bet against Nike.) But this year will definitely pack plenty of punch when it comes to cultural happenings. Mad Max will roar back out of the apocalypse while Mad Men rides off into the sunset, rock’s Antichrist Superstar and hip-hop’s Yeezus will rise again. After months of escalating protests and grassroots organizing in response to the police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, police reformers have issued many demands.

While law enforcers have existed in one form or another for centuries, the modern police have their roots in the relatively recent rise of modern property relations 200 years ago, and the “disorderly conduct” of the urban poor. Like every structure we’ve known all our lives, it seems that the policing paradigm is inescapable and everlasting, and the only thing keeping us from the precipice of a dystopic Wild West scenario.

Rather than be scared of our impending Road Warrior future, check out just a few of the practicable, real-world alternatives to the modern system known as policing: Unarmed but trained people, often formerly violent offenders themselves, patrolling their neighborhoods to curb violence right where it starts. Stop believing that police are heroes because they are the only ones willing to get in the way of knives or guns – so are the members of groups like Cure Violence, who were the subject of the 2012 documentary The Interrupters. There are also feminist models that specifically organize patrols of local women, who reduce everything from cat-calling and partner violence to gang murders in places like Brooklyn. Violent offenses count for a fraction of the 11 to 14 million arrests every year, and yet there is no real conversation about what constitutes a crime and what permits society to put a person in chains and a cage.

Decriminalization doesn’t work on its own: The cannabis trade that used to employ poor Blacks, Latinos, indigenous and poor whites in its distribution is now starting to be monopolized by already-rich landowners. To quote investigative journalist Christian Parenti’s remarks on criminal justice reform in his book Lockdown America, what we really need most of all is “less.” Also known as reparative or transformative justice, these models represent an alternative to courts and jails. From hippie communes to the IRA and anti-Apartheid South African guerrillas to even some U.S. cities like Philadelphia’s experiment with community courts, spaces are created where accountability is understood as a community issue and the entire community, along with the so-called perpetrator and the victim of a given offense, try to restore and even transform everyone in the process. Communities that have tools to engage with each other about problems and disputes don’t have to consider what to do after anti-social behaviors are exhibited in the first place.

Obviously these could become police themselves and then be subject to the same abuses, but as a temporary solution they have been making a real impact. In New York, Rikers Island jails as many people with mental illnesses “as all 24 psychiatric hospitals in New York State combined,” which is reportedly 40% of the people jailed at Rikers. We have created a tremendous amount of mental illness, and in the real debt and austerity dystopia we’re living in, we have refused to treat each other for our physical and mental wounds.

Mental health has often been a trapdoor for other forms of institutionalized social control as bad as any prison, but shifting toward preventative, supportive and independent living care can help keep those most impacted from ending up in handcuffs or dead on the street.

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