‘Tomorrowland’: The Future’s Past

“Tomorrowland” may be the first Disney film that’s difficult to encapsulate. I didn’t understand its premise until thirty minutes in, and I’m still not sure I totally get it. The irony is that it boasts the best trailer I’ve seen in years: As George Clooney rasps, “What if there’s a secret place where nothing is impossible?” a girl in a gray, industrial room picks up a button, instantly transports into a golden world of shimmering wheat fields and spiraling glass buildings, and then transports back without the slightest explanation. But while I wish all this intrigue led somewhere fantastic, as Gertrude Stein was wont to say, “There’s no there.”

In this era in which doom and gloom rule the box office, applause is still in order for the very existence of a utopian film – which, make no mistake, “Tomorrowland” is. It opens as scientist Frank Walker (Clooney) argues with an off-screen Casey (the girl in the trailer, played by Britt Robertson). “This is a story about the future, and the future can be scary,” he is intoning when she suggests he try a more upbeat approach. Cut to Frank as a kid (Thomas Robertson, whose resemblance to a young Clooney is uncanny) at 1964′s New York World’s Fair, where he is trying to make his fuel-powered jetpack work. Though he doesn’t pull that off, Athena, a freckle-faced, bright-eyed girl his age, slips him a pin that briefly sends him to that mysterious world of glass, wheat, and apparently gluten-tolerant denizens. It’s a glimpse that Frank, now a curmudgeonly hermit who is “100 percent positive” the world is ending within months, claims destroyed his life since it gave him false hope. Imagine a “Wizard of Oz” in which Dorothy is unceremoniously shuttled back to Kansas within the first five minutes, and you see where he’s coming from. (more…)

Mercury Retrograde Gangster

Ever since I got my iPhone, I’ve set its alarm to Aretha’s “Hello Sunshine” because I like having my dream mommy gently shake me awake every morning. Today I set the alarm to wake me to James Brown’s “Papa Don’t Take No Mess.” I’m going to muscle through this Mercury retrograde one way or another; I spent too long flat on my back to gracefully surrender to any “stop in your tracks” madness this time around. (Yeah, we’ll see how that goes.)… Read More

The Low Notes of ‘Pitch Perfect 2′

Here at Word and Film, we are not in the business of grading movies. But if I were to grade “Pitch Perfect 2,” the much-anticipated follow-up to the breakout 2012 musical comedy, I’d give it a solid B. As sequels go, that’s not bad, and the film deserves extra points for sidestepping the meta-movie trap into which so many comedic sequels fall. (Here’s looking at you, “22 Jump Street.”) But, though I’m a huge fan of its pop-feminism and hip a cappella (no, that’s not an oxymoron), “Pitch Perfect 2″ doesn’t quite hit the high notes of its predecessor. Chalk that up to a too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen plot and a disappointing profusion of micro-aggression.… Read More