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Rental Corner: An unfortunate visit to “Tomorrowland”

How misleading the advertising can be...poster and movie name

How misleading the advertising can be…poster and movie name

When dealing with themes of the future, movies have a two-sided coin to present. One says make it bright and hopeful like Hill Valley in Back to the Future Part II while the other says make it darker and grimm like Blade Runner. To present an optimistic view of the future while showing conflict is an even heavier attempt has a movie has to balance between showing the upside to a higher lifestyle while presenting there are conflicts like the society of wealthy vs. poverty in Metropolis. To make these elements into a thought provoking blockbuster is not a bad idea but it depends on how the mixture of these elements get handled. Or else one will end up with such a clunky and off-tone picture as Tomorrowland. As I am sad to say, one of the biggest domestic box-office flops of this year seeing so much effort and talent were thrown in yet little pays off or comes as entertaining.

The premise deals with a hidden utopia on Earth, how it is hidden remains unclear, with a promise of peace and harmony but comes off looking like a giant spa resort of gizmos and gadgets taken from The Jetsons and many other future films. Perhaps I should be more precise and bring up the fact this is based on Disney’s Epcot and Tomorrowland theme park attractions. Which is no surprise seeing certain elements like Space Mountain do appear as Easter Eggs here and there. But as expansive as the giant city is, we don’t spend much time in it. The main focus is the story and characters surrounded by this massive place which I wouldn’t have much of a problem if these elements were at the very least interesting.

Britt Robertson plays a tech-savvy teen that always believes in optimism but it nearly contradicts with her character by means of vandalism to a NASA launch pad being dismantled so her father can remain an engineer. I guess her actions account for something seeing she gets a magic pin that shows her this amazing city but only as a holographic illusion. Even more questioning is the ability of the pin as once one touches it, they see this great world but stuck in the real one as they lumber around like some kind of virtual reality helmet strapped on. Even in one scene, we see her move to the city in a corn field but also falling down the stairs when doing so in real life. If this pin makes an illusion, wouldn’t it be safer to confine it to one room as opposed to having said person meander in real life? What if one touches it and walks around in day time traffic? So much for the future of that poor soul.

George Clooney tries to find a solution to save the Earth and the crumbling utopia...but can't find one for the movie

George Clooney tries to find a solution to save the Earth and the crumbling utopia…but can’t find one for the movie

Either way, this pin creates such curiosity, that she seeks out the origin of it. All traces lead to a cranky inventor named Frank Walker (George Clooney) who wishes to be left alone then return to the fabled city he was banned from. Apparently, he somehow manages to keep track of the world’s lifespan as an impending doom is set against the Earth. He thinks the young teen has the ability to save it as in much stories where the young hero or heroine is chosen to save the day thanks to her kindness.

In a sense, the film tonally tries to be something along the lines of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory where the good kid gets picked due to their ingenuity and despite hardships has a kind heart but I didn’t really get a sense of care for out characters.  The performances are fine but just something about the writing feels off in narrative and character wise. The narrative flow gets distracted by Clooney’s flashing back as the structure of the movie is held by first person narrative as we cut back to the character Frank telling viewers what we are watching. An element cleary unneeded as the film can unfold without it.

Outside of Britt’s character having an open mind and Clooney being the man who lost hope, there wasn’t much else I found that really showed a care or motive to hang on to. Maybe its the jumbled narrative or how little we see of the city, but most of the plot feels very spotty that when one character decides to go on a search or move to the next story beat, there isn’t much risk or purpose behind it. She find a pin, goes to see the source, finds out the villains, saved by a sidekick/henchman type character, comes across a grizzled guy, go to futuristic place, find something is wrong and try to fix it. The story is so basic and paper thin that it shouldn’t feel this complex when its being told. And with not much connection to these story beats and directions it takes, why should we care as viewers?

Your a mean one...Mr. House!

Your a mean one…Mr. House!

The bigger problem comes in the second half when our heroes make it to Tomorrowland to find it in shambles. Apparently, a last minute conflict comes in the form of Hugh Laurie who plays a pessimistic Governor of the place who knows the secret link between Tomorrowland and the real world as well as why things are crumbling as they are. With the fear of an apocalypse on the way in people’s minds, it feels this is the direction things are heading into. So right off the fly, the message is a no-brainier. Be happy, keep being positive, work toward a bright future and don’t be negative. My problem is how heavy handed this message is and obvious they hammer it through the majority of the movie to the point it becomes more of the focus and less on the story.

To compare, The Peanuts Movie has a similar theme but not as obvious. As Charlie Brown tires to show he can do great things and fails, the more the viewer wants to see him succeed. The message of hope is more well-preserved here because that is not the focus. The focus is the characters and the story so later on, we can look back and remark the trails the protagonist had to endure as we compare them to our lives. Even themes of optimism and pessimism are explored better in Inside Out as we see how one can’t live without positive and negative things. They have to co-exist and co-operate. Tomorrowland takes these elements and instead cooks them into a good vs. evil manner at the last minute that has been done to death.

Without giving too much away, Laurie’s character reveals how people’s positive and negative thinking are essential to the world of Tomorrowland in a reveal so preachy that it undermines the entire message of the movie. With images of doom and gloom plaguing the real world, it has the future seeking to go in that direction unless convinced otherwise seems to be the logical solution. Instead, the final 20 minutes opts for a big action climax instead of a much smarter route like maybe a talk or a way to convince Hugh’s character that convincing people to be positive is a means to make a brighter future. That doesn’t happen. We get a feast of explosions, destruction and a villain’s downfall that is so cliche it makes my blood boil to see what could have been a nice story about building to a better tomorrow turn into a cliche blockbuster romp.

Sure it looks nice...but I wouldn't want to visit

Sure it looks nice…but I wouldn’t want to visit

The screenplay was written by Damon Lindelof who credits include Lost and 2012’s Prometheus while Brad Bird co-writes. With this knowledge, it feels like two different movies are mixed in as the ideology of Brad Bird is clashing with the “whizz,” “bang,” and “pow” of an edgy sci-fi movie. Instead of taking a break for character development or perhaps even heart felt moments which are standard of Brad’s work, we find ourselves watching and counting out the story beats as hero goes from point A to B with little interest knowing what will happen next. Times that could have been used for exploring character relationships are traded up for big action set pieces and CGI wonder as a  monument turns into rocket ship and people get obliterated by lasers held by evil androids. There is something very tonally off here between the future talk and the action.

And for those who think I’m being “negative” over Brad Bird, I like the guy. I do. I recall The Iron Giant when the metal monster is told how souls can’t die. Or how about the “Krusty Gets Busted” episode from The Simpsons when Bart is trying to convincing himself his hero is not a crook under shades of blue and Krusty merchandise. And need we not forget Mr. Incredible’s dilemma of trying to be a secret superhero and a family man. If Tomorrowland had more charm much like these small scenes that carry so much weight, perhaps I wouldn’t be so harsh. The city might have an interesting design, but under the retro rubble is a clunky and uneven story that crumbles and pods without pay off or impact. If you want a movie about the optimism and pessimism of the future play against itself, I recommend watching the Back to the Future trilogy more seeing themes of controlling one’s future and the negative benefits of a positive change are far better explored. Even movies like Explorers and The NeverEnding Story had a better handle with certain aspects like building to the unknown or trying to maintain hope. Fraggle Rock’s themes of universal peace was better explored without the aspect of violence being involved to solve a problem. Unfortunately, Tomorrowland didn’t do much for me. Aside from the performances being ok, it just came off as dull, preachy and just really a waste of good talent. I feel bad for saying this but the future of this movie looks rather grim as it stands at #4 at my worst of 2015 list.

Rental Corner: “The Amazing” underwhelming, overstuffed “Spider-Man 2”

They said it was big...we expected was a lie just like this poster

They said it was big…we expected better….it was a lie just like this poster

There has never been a movie that had such a diverse audience than “Amazing Spider-Man 2.” When ever it came up in conversations, many were willing to praise it while others dismiss it as a fluke. This entry in the web-head franchise got such a huge backlash on its reception, that even the studio Sony is second thinking about the future entries. However, between the leaked plans that were revealed in December and after seeing this entry that my thoughts on this one didn’t surprise me. I actually felt that is worse than the first one. At least the first “Amazing Spider-Man” was a footstep into a new franchise and while I wasn’t all for the new directions, it was establishing itself. A sequel should have a chance to mend those problems behind from the first one. “Muppets Most Wanted” still shared most of the flaws of its predecessor but at least made up for it but focusing it story and humor on the Muppet characters. “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” blew my socks off with its complex characters and smart storytelling that made Rise look soft in comparison. Even “X-Men: Days of Future Past” felt like a breath of fresh air after the lame and mediocre entries. The only thing “Amazing Spider-Man 2” proves is that its own studio doesn’t know how to grasp the idea of a franchise and not only repeats similar mistakes but (what I also feel) make bigger ones.

Andrew Garfield returns as the gawky Peter Parker whose alter-ego is a web shooting and wall crawling superhero named Spider-Man. I didn’t think Andrew was a good pick and this sequel doesn’t convince me other wise. He’s just doing what the script is telling him to do without giving air for him to establish an identity. When he’s Peter, he’s obnoxious when it comes to feuding over his Aunt May (Sally Fields) in order to avoid spilling his identity and even uninteresting. I feel that so much story is rushed that we don’t get a good understanding of his portrayal of Peter Parker. And don’t get me started about what happens when he is Spider-Man. Not only do they push the limits of his powers, but his wise-cracks and sarcasm get so old to the point I’m grinding my teeth to dust. Even a scene when he helps a kid fend off bullies feels like it was taken out of cheap PSA. Moments like that come off as forced even considering they do it again at the tail end to establish Spidy as a hero and not a menace. It just got old for me even considering this was already done in the first film.

Worse of all is when Peter is interacting with his friends and loved ones. At least give Sam Raimi some credit for developing the relationship of Peter and Harry Osborn. Here, Harry just appears out of the blue like he was meant to be established in the first film. The relationship is developed at a rush pace that we don’t even give two cents. They keep adding in exposition and talks about how they used to be best friends but I don’t feel that. We never see them do things together as friends other than share one scene and that’s it. Even later when Harry tries to get Spider-Man’s blood for some bizarre disease he has, there is no feeling of tragedy to the character. Dane DeHaan’s performance comes off as so cold that we get no human factor. He’s like a cross between a stingy Richie Rich and Donald Trump. His line delivery is some of the worse I have ever heard in a movie for a long time. Dane says his lines in a way that shows he doesn’t care. There’s no emotion or even a bit of weight. Even worse is his transformation into the Green Goblin for the end. Couldn’t do something better with the make-up? He looks like Evil Ed from Fright Night melted in the microwave with a Beavis doll. Its such a horrible design that I ended up laughing at it whenever he was on screen for the “big finale.”

Speaking of which, Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacey is a good writing 101 on how not to make a romance. Most of the critics who saw this, and viewers alike who liked or disliked, praised the romantic chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. To which I ask, what chemistry? For a good portion of the movie, they keep breaking up and making up to the point it becomes a drinking game. It also doesn’t help they give Peter Parker this guilt factor by having him see Gwen’s dead father every time he’s around her. Why doesn’t he talk about this to her or consult someone? No, Gwen has enough and dumps. Then reconciles just to tell Peter that she’s going to Oxford, England to a university. Then break up again and then have her help Peter stop a madman just so they have this big moment (which I can’t spoil…crud) but I get no feeling when that moment does happen. Most of their scenes are just romantic fluff that I’ve seen before to the point I could give two cents. There’s only one time Gwen helps Peter out and that’s it. Other than that, I feel nothing for the both of them.

And the best saved for last is Jamie Foxx as Electro. Oh man, did this character irritate me. Taken from Batman Forever, they pull the old nerdy and creepy engineer that gets so obsessed with his idol that it somehow causes him to get a causality and use it against the one he used to worship. Blah, blah blah. Been there, done that and smoked it. This is the man who did an great potrayle of the late Ray Charles and he is wasting his efforts going from an unfunny and (again) surprisingly creepy geek that gets turned into a blue-skinned, auto tuned villain that is dull and shows no menace. Even when they attempt to raise the stakes, it doesn’t come off as feeling threatening but rather cartoony. And while we are on the subject, what is the with the property damage in this movie? Every time Spider-Man goes against a villain, there’s so many car crashes and building damage to the point it feels like New York is getting torn to shreds. What kind of budget does this city have to fix itself over a night?

The rest of “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” I personally care for less. Its such a weightless entry that barley has a driving motive or even a solid story to go with it. I didn’t even talk about Paul Giamatti’s throwaway cameo as the Rhino, the most pointless Stan Less cameo in existence, the heavy foreshadowing and painful irony of Gewn Stacey’s big scene at the end or even one of the biggest plot holes in the movie. If Peter’s parents wanted to hide somewhere from Oscorp, why couldn’t do they it in the secret, abandoned subway tunnel instead of getting axed off in a jumbo jet? Wouldn’t it be better if they stayed there and hid among society? How hard is that when you have so much equipment to live and work off of? Stuff like that is never covered up or even given an inkling to explain. All this movie is doing is throwing so much stuff at you just to get to a bigger and explosive movie. That’s really all I get.

At least sequels like Back to the Future Part II and The Matrix Reloaded had a story and at least enough solid reasons for a third entry to exist. “Amazing Spider-Man 2” just feels like filler. And not even the enjoyable kind. Instead of focusing on expanding on Peter’s character, making a unique and tragic villain and having proper build up to what could have been a grand finale leaving for the need of a third film, all they do is use this one for their needs to build toward another one without the care that was shown in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That took time and care to make such a grand entry who know today as “The Avengers.” Here, they are obviously rushing it to make that explosive entry than let time and care be the essence resulting in us getting a sequel that gives nothing in return. Oh, right there was something! A never-ending plug at Sony computers and products throughout the whole movie. From laptops to even a flipping Walkman, this is more of a commercial for Sony than it is for Spider-Man. This is not a sequel. This is a sell out.

Box Office: “Maleficent” is queen at box office

The fairest of the box office

The fairest of the box office

Maleficent took the top spot domestically with $69.4 million and is so far  #1 for this box-office weekend. Apparently this was quite the surprise as droves of families went to see the new Disney reimaging of Sleeping Beauty and its appeal to the female audience certainly shows. According to Box Office Mojo, the audience was 60 percent female and certainly was a summer highlight for being the first so far to be targeted at women. Though this can also be counted for fans of Disney version who know the iconic villain well enough for a spot in Disney history and its marketing really pushed the “think you know the tale” motif to stir some curiosity.

However, not all were pleased as it left critics mixed but surprisingly the audience was more in favor of it. As of this post, according to Rotten Tomatoes only 51% of the critics gave Maleficent a positive review while 77% percent enjoyed it. This is almost adjacent to another fairy tale reimaging back in 1991 with Steven Spielberg’s Hook which left critics mixed to negative but its viewership holds up really well. Its safe to say this family flick left a spell on its audience and one that last long depending on its reception in the home video market.

But not all movies have a fairy tale ending as Seth McFarlane’s “A Million Ways to Die In The West” did have a happy weekend. Debuting in

Even Seth looks disappointed after seeing the box office results...

Even Seth looks disappointed after seeing the box office results…

third place with $16.8 million, this is considered a huge disappointment compared to Ted’s opening gross of $54 million. Seth’s dark western comedy bomb for a variety of reasons that I wish to theorize. One could be the fact that the marketing this month tried to push it so much that it felt forced to its viewers (accounting for having the “Ted” connection and spoiling a major cameo). It was almost like they didn’t even try to sell this picture as it only focused on its outrageous humor and none of the attributes from plot to its celebrities. Another could be the Oscar hosting back in 2013 that got a unanimous amount of negativity in regards to Seth’s comedic style and presentation that didn’t gel with every viewer.

On top of that, westerns seem to be a dying genre that gets an attempt to be boosted from the tombstone but is not getting anywhere. A good explain is last year’s The Lone Ranger that alienated viewers over wondering how a movie with such a major price tag can get made and yet disappoint. I don’t think there is a hint this genre is completely dead but considering past summer western flops like Cowboys and Aliens, Johan Hex and Wild Wild West, I think its time Hollywood started searching for another “Unforgiven” or “Tombstone” before declaring it completely dead. Or at the very least, release westerns in the off-season. Just a thought.

But the biggest nail in the coffin is the loyal viewers. According to Rotten Tomatoes, the critical reception was much worse than Maleficent obtaining only 33% positive reviews while its audience was only 51 %. To top it off, Seth’s popularity has been dwindling recently with the recent revamping to Family Guy as they killed a major character off for a short time that left a huge backlash. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if “Million Ways” passes the $50 million mark but I would actually settle for a night renting Blazing Saddles than this any day. At least pray Ted 2 improves something.

The Mysterious Case of “Pacific Rim’s” Box Office Bombing

The movie that divided viewers....

The movie that divided viewers….

I must ask why did “Pacific Rim” bomb in the US while “Grown Ups 2” become a big hit? It seemed predictable that one would be a far better film seeing the hype and buzz but how did Del Toror’s magnum opus about giant robots and fierce sea monsters get taken down by a lame, lame, lame, lame, lame, lame, lame and completely unfunny Adam Sandler comedy?

First, Pacific Rim was a hard movie to sell and after watching it, I can see why. The idea of monsters from another world taking over is not a bad idea and the concept of having a facility where that is taken care of by means of giant robots controlled by people is hair-brained but executed in such a clever way. What the tv and trailer ads didn’t talk about is how it takes TWO to control a massive machine and how the people have to be literally linked together in order for the thing to work. Its an interesting theme on relationships and trying to find balance with one another.

But this leads to one problem with Pacific Rim that I have with it. Its a very well set-up universe with complex concepts but in the long run feels way too complex. Its never easy to make a movie that will please anyone when they are either too simple or stuff with too much rules for the universe its placed in. And here, I think there is too much which I feel should have been saved for a sequel. Things like seeing the home world of the Kajui should have been kept a mystery and while I did enjoy Ron Pearlman’s character as a black market dealer with giant monster organs, I feel his presence hinted a bigger role for a future film in some way. Other ideas like how the monsters are possibly and mentally linked are not explained to the point where it feels like they pay off in the end but once again, it feels like build up to a second feature where more is explained.

I heard rumors that a 3 hour cut exists and if that is possible, maybe it has more material that just couldn’t fit a 2 hour summer blockbuster. But what we get is at least tolerable. The characters are well-developed, the fight scenes are cool (even if its CGI heavy and sometimes go on for too long in spots), the creature designs look amazing (even if they appear to be a bit TOO CLOSE to the monsters in Hellboy), and some shots feel iconic in their own right like a little child seeing a massive fight before her eyes.

So if Pacific Rim had the makings of a good blockbuster amidst its flaws, what does that leave for Grown Ups 2? Well, I have a few theories. Either people were unsure to make of Del Toro’s flick or the advertising just didn’t address the complex nature (as addressed earlier) which harmed a unique gimmick that could have saved the film’s marketing department. (They do address the whole “takes two to operate a giant robot” but not a single one said THEY had to be linked…think about it) Or people just wanted a bright shiny movie that even thought it looked stupid they just went for it because it was dumb fun as opposed to ridiculous but clever fun.

As for my thoughts on Grown Ups 2, what can be said that hasn’t? Well, for one the plot….its nothing. Just a random set of events that either don’t pay off or just conclude in a weak way. There are things like David Spade meeting his estranged son or Adam Sandler trying to bond with his kids while the mother has a day off as well as a group of frat college boys out to seek vengeance on the group, but 100% of them have a weak pay off or not one at all.

Worse is the production values. For a movie budgeted at $80 million, they sure needed a CGI deer and CGI David Spade trapped in a moving tire. For a film with that big of a budget, it feels like good money was wasted to sure a cheap quality. I sat though and only laughed with Shaq

...the movie everyone saw...I wonder if they regret it

…the movie everyone saw…I wonder if they regret it

was on-screen because of his clueless but fun natured performance. Everything else was met with dead silence or the munching of me eating potato chips to drown out the stupidity. Not even Taylor Lautner as a self parody of his wolf pack from the Twlight films can save this flick. Its just an insult waste of your time that once again brings me to my main point.

Grown Ups 2 was nothing. People paid to see nothing. And instead of being risky and seeing a loud blockbuster with explosions, opted for something less complex. Another theory I have deals with the blockbuster fatigue we had this year but I’m saving that discussion for a future FB post. The only hope I can say is that Pacific Rim will get new life over here on home video cause seeing how huge of a hit it was overseas, it makes me wonder if it qualifies as franchise material for both parties. Then again, Del Toro did make Hellboy 2 even if the first one didn’t go highly well domestically, so only time can tell….