Thursday, May 21, 2015

Tomorrowland: A Cold And Bloated Mess

This review originally appeared on

Imagine a world filled with only geniuses, inventors, dreamers, and thinkers, who are allowed to be awesome and fulfill their potential without the constraints of societal laws or expectations. That is the world of Tomorrowland.

Now tell me: Who picks up their trash, does their laundry, builds their elevated highways, and makes their lattes? Oh right. They're all geniuses! I'm sure they'll figure it out.

Director Brad Bird has been accused of objectivism before, and he's denied there are Ayn Rand-inspired themes in his work. While one can definitely read some Randian influence into both The Incredibles and Ratatouille, (some people — and rats — are just better than others!), the films were charming, entertaining, and filled with enough heart that I could give it a pass. But Tomorrowland is such a meandering, cold, and bloated mess that you just can't escape its theme this time.

As a huge Disneyland fan, the opening of the movie had me filled with hope. Well, actually it's the second opening of the film. The first opening has George Clooney (Frank Walker) talking directly to the audience and then arguing with his costar (Britt Robertson), something that happens a few more times through the course of the film, and is absolutely unnecessary. In the second opening we see Clooney's character as a kid at the 1964 World's Fair, entering a jet pack into an inventions contest. While rebuffed by the contest judge (Hugh Laurie), a girl who appears to be Laurie's daughter (Raffey Cassidy, who gives the best performance in the film), takes a liking to young Frank, gives him a pin with a "T" on it, and has him follow her onto the It's a Small World ride.

I'll give the film this much: it understands Disneyland fandom. After all, It's a Small World really is right next door to Tomorrowland, and what little boy hasn't been forced to ride it hoping the entire time that the bottom would drop out and his boat would get to travel to a much cooler part of the park? That's basically what happens to Frank, as that magic pin gets him whisked away into a gleaming 1960's retro-future world filled with robots, rockets, and women in space age minis.

Unfortunately, the movie doesn't spend much time there. Instead we transition to present day, where Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) is a gifted teenager sad about the dismantling of NASA, doing all she can to make sure the launch pad doesn't get demolished. Her school lessons are filled with the doom and gloom of our horrible world, and Casey dares to ask "What can we do about it?" Of course, her mediocre teachers have no answer to that.

After finding a "T" pin in her possession, and discovering that touching it brings her into the gleaming world of Tomorrowland, but only temporarily, Casey goes on a quest to get to the bottom of it. When she meets her "recruiter," she directs Casey to Frank, now a middle-aged inventor living in seclusion. Seems he was banished from Tomorrowland years ago for building something, the end of the world is neigh, and Casey is the only person who can stop it. As long as they can get back to Tomorrowland.

While all of that sounds simple enough, the movie takes forever to get the plot moving, and once it does, it's still a muddled mess. What did Frank do that was so bad? Why is the villain a villain? What's to be gained from letting the world die? And is a future where all the world's awesome people get to live somewhere else, while us plebes have to stay on Earth doing our mediocre best really a future to aspire to?

But perhaps some good can come of the film. If its success means Disneyland will finally get off its butt and turn the actual Tomorrowland back into the gleaming model of futurism it once was, I hope it makes a billion dollars.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Welcome to Me

This review originally appeared on

Welcome to Me is like a Saturday Night Live movie based on a character that really shouldn't have a back story. Would Penelope, Kristen Wiig's recurring SNL character who is always one-upping people at parties, be funnier if you found out her backstory is that she has borderline personality disorder, is a virtual shut-in, and she's just stopped taking her meds? Because that's pretty much the set-up of this indie comedy that just screams indie comedy at every step.

Wiig's Alice Klieg lives in Palm Desert, and, due to her mental illness, has a limited life and very set routine. The TV is always on, either airing infomercials or old VHS tapes of Oprah shows that she knows by heart. She visits a therapist (Tim Robbins). She buys pudding and lotto tickets at the corner store. And most of what she says comes via prepared statements she pulls out of her fanny pack.

And then she wins the lottery.

What she chooses to do with that money is the bulk of the movie: She convinces a flailing public access station, run by two brothers (James Marsden and Wes Bentley) to produce a talk show starring her, about her, and air it two hours a day, five days a week. Of course her myopic worldview makes for some funny moments--her insistence that she always make an entrance in a swan boat; sitting and eating a meat cake for 10 minutes; rehashing past hurts with badly acted reenactments. But it also makes for some really disturbing ones, like her deciding she's going to neuter dogs, live and on the air for several episodes. (She was once a veterinary assistant.)

A person as self-centered and unwilling to address her illness as Alice would likely have estranged her family and friends long ago, but in the movie they have, inexplicably, stuck by her. They include an ex-husband, played by Alan Tudyk, and a best friend, played by Linda Cardellini. Her friends, for reasons never made clear, care about Alice as more than just the source of some of uneasy laughter. But we're never given any other reason to care.