Movie Review: “Tomorrowland”

Tomorrowland

“This is a story about the future, and the future can be scary” — the somewhat ominous first words from John Francis “Frank” Walker (George Clooney), at the opening of Brad Bird’s latest opus. Rather than bringing us straight to the shiny future teased in the movie’s trailers, “Tomorrowland” truly begins with a visit to the past, 1964 to be exact, and the World’s Fair in New York. Young Frank (Thomas Robinson) makes his appearance at a booth for the vetting of inventions, and when a taciturn Nix (Hugh Laurie) seems to find every reason to turn down Frank’s only-barely-not-working jet pack, a sweet young pixie named Athena (Raffey Cassidy) chases him down and coyly offers him a second chance to impress with his technology.

Athena hands Frank a pin with a “T” on it and orders him to follow her from a safe distance, while she then dashes ahead to the “It’s a Small World” ride (which actually debuted at the real-life 1964 Fair). Frank manages to scamper onto one of the boats and the pin ensures that he’s spirited away to a world straight out of every futuristic drawing ever produced (or perhaps from the pen of the designer of London’s Shard), where his jet pack manages to save his life almost immediately upon arrival. Frank and Athena are soon reunited and, as much as Nix dourly regards Frank, he’s unable to deny that Frank has some techno skills.

 

Young Frank and Athena at the World's Fair

The younger Frank (Thomas Robinson) talking about his jet pack with Athena (Raffey Cassidy)

 

Skip now to present day, where Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) is trying to sabotage the demolition of a NASA launch platform at Cape Canaveral to stave off a future that puts her engineer father out of work. “It’s hard to have ideas…and easy to give up,” she says. Given how the rest of the movie goes, I’m inclined to agree with her. Over the course of the two hour and ten minute-long film, Casey goes on your standard hero quest through space and time–to the point where I started to wonder if Bird himself gave up and just dropped scenes and concepts from “Back to the Future II”, “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief”, “Contact”, and “The Lorax” into the largest blender he could find.

 

Casey in the wheat field

Casey (Britt Robertson) seemingly transported to a field wheat

 

A strangely un-aged Athena plants a pin on Casey, who soon discovers that it has the power to show her a transformed world with the lovely dichotomy of a super-futuristic city surrounded by fields of completely untended wheat. As it happens, the pin is merely an ad; it shows Casey the visuals but none of it is real. When the time runs out on the hallucination (or very intricate hologram), she finds she’s mostly waded into a swamp. One quick internet search later, she finds a place that may have answers about the vision from the pin: a nerdtopia of a store called “Blast from the Past”, run by Ursula (Kathryn Hahn) and Hugo (Keegan-Michael Key).

It’s once you get to “Blast from the Past” that “Tomorrowland” veers firmly off the “OK for Small Kids” path, when a variety of killbots sporting hyper-bleached toothy grins begin the first of several lengthy appearances, blowing up things left, right and center, and placing Casey firmly in danger. Athena helps save the teenaged heroine, aiding her escape and setting her on the path to meeting up with Frank, at which point the strange story takes turns both predictable and disappointing.

 

Frank and Casey in Frank's house

Older Frank (George Clooney) and Casey (Britt Robertson) having one of many arguments

 

The pairing of Casey and Frank goes well enough, but at this point the story itself becomes too much of an unoriginal hot mess to match with some of Bird’s earlier work (such as “The Incredibles”, which is Bird and Pixar both firing on all cylinders). As much as Frank initially resists Casey’s pleas for help to get to the city of the pin’s visions, he soon wholeheartedly jumps into her quest and all too slowly reveals why it is that he no longer resides in the utopia she glimpsed. The remaining threads of the story then pull together in a manner well-telegraphed to those paying attention.

On the plus side, the casting was fairly well done. Robertson is plucky and adorable (sort of a Jennifer Lawrence-lite), and Clooney plays “get off my lawn” rather well for someone who started out his career as a heart-throb. Cassidy plays Athena just right, and the combination of Key and Hahn needs to get its own TV show (or she needs to be a regular on “Key and Peele”). The visuals of the shiny city with multilevel pools and flying everything are gorgeous, although occasionally the green screening doesn’t quite work as well as it should.

Where “Tomorrowland” falls below expectations is in how often it spends too much time wallowing in misery over discarded gadgets and people, showing the myriad ways one can disable a grinning killbot, and lecturing everyone on how little we appreciate everything around us. Meanwhile, it gives short shrift to the future promised by the eponymous “land”, in particular leaving a whole piece of what’s happening in that city completely unexplained, and the writers maddeningly deny Laurie’s Nix the opportunity to chew all the scenery within reach. Talk about not appreciating something right in front of you.

As far as the question of whether “Tomorrowland” is okay to watch with kids, I’d recommend it for children 8 years or older. Below that age, some of the violent scenes may be too disturbing. It’s actually somewhat difficult to tell which age range is the target for “Tomorrowland”, since portions of it are fairly kid-oriented but the action scenes are really too much for the smaller set. Perhaps all that jumping around between the past, present, and “future” has “Tomorrowland” just as confused as the rest of us.

 

2-1/2 out of 4 stars

“Tomorrowland” opens nationwide on May 22, 2015. This movie is rated PG for sequences of sci-fi action and peril, thematic elements, and language.

 

Is Boston Strong enough for what’s next?

It was a little over a month ago that I wrote about the verdict in the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trial. Yesterday, the jury came back from deliberations and pronounced that the twelve men and women decided he should be put to death for the horrific crimes he committed. He bombed innocent people. He helped kill an MIT police officer.

And now, the twelve ruled: LET HIS GLOBAL BUS PASS BE REVOKED.

I don’t necessarily disagree with the jury. After all, if the death penalty shouldn’t be applied in the case of the Boston Marathon bomber, when should it be applied?

There are those who say that it should never be applied, whether they believe in the concept of turning the other cheek, or whether they believe in some manner of redemption…or perhaps they believe that if even one wrongly accused person is put to death then we as a society are no better than those that we would hold in contempt.

I also don’t necessarily agree with the jury, either.

From the moment he was caught, I wanted him gone. Toss him in the deepest, darkest hole in our Federal penitentiary system, I said. Let him disappear forever where he can’t harm anyone else and he will never again experience the joys of freedom. He was guilty, so much so that even his defense team acknowledged his guilt from the outset and only worked to mitigate its impact by trying to deflect blame onto anyone and everything except for their client.

In that sense, barring some kind of overturning of his conviction on appeal, at least he will be in prison for the rest of his life. He will be off the streets. He won’t get to hang out with his friends in his dorm room or at a restaurant. He committed horrible, senseless, violent acts that are utterly inexcusable, and he should be punished.

I see so much blood lust on my personal Facebook and Twitter feeds; some friends and family seem gleeful at the idea of him being taken out back and put out of our misery. And rarely is it ever that simple. In practical reality, because the verdict of death triggers an automatic appeal, his story will be in the headlines for months and years to come. Of course, there are also the candle-wavers holding virtual vigil for the idea that the death penalty is so wrong that he must be spared from a rather immediate termination and instead have a lengthy life in prison…followed by termination–voluntary or otherwise.

It’s all enough to make you wish people were still posting copious videos of cats playing pianos.

I was chatting with a co-worker yesterday and I mentioned that I knew people who were there on the day of the bombing: people inside The Forum, people at the medical tent, people hovering near the finish line as they cheered on friends and complete strangers. Anyone with a connection to prior Boston Marathons was there in some way, shape, or form that day–even if we weren’t there physically. Yesterday only dredged up some of those feelings, giving neither comfort nor solace. It was only a mile marker in a much longer marathon.

We have such a small time on this Earth, in this universe. We have but years in which to build and enjoy lives of exploration, education, and emotion. We are a blink of an eye in a natural system that tells times in eons and epochs. We are transient. We should never hurry on death and destruction. We should never rejoice in it.

I wish the verdict brought peace, but it doesn’t. It allows twelve people to go back to their lives as they were before, knowing they will never be the same. It allows the rest of us to wait impatiently and uncomfortably for whatever size and manner of shoe is next to drop. This story won’t go away anytime soon. There is no fading into obscurity.

The trauma continues.

The marathon keeps going.

Are we Strong enough for this race?

I sure as hell hope so.

If I never hear the word “asbestos” again…

I’ve been MIA on this blog for the last few weeks, mostly because things have been in complete uproar. Actually, they’ve been in uproar for months, but I’ve been keeping it mostly quiet online until it was settled down.

Long story short: we planned to add more insulation to our attic (thanks to the Mass Save program), and before we could have electrical cleanup work done in the attic we had an ice dam that caused minor water damage to our son’s room’s ceiling, which led to a hole cut in the ceiling, which EVENTUALLY (on the day the insulators came to the house) led to the discovery that we had vermiculite in our attic. (*pants* takes a breath)

Still following?

Vermiculite is a mineral that–for many years prior to 1990–was primarily mined from a site in Montana that was contaminated with a highly toxic form of asbestos. Thus, the EPA says that once you discover vermiculite of unknown age, you have to get rid of it in the same manner as if it contains asbestos. Apparently, testing of vermiculite is inaccurate and produces too many false negatives, so you can’t just test it for asbestos and rule out the need for full-on remediation.

Thankfully, we’re insured by Amica (aka “THE BEST INSURER EVAR”) and they not only paid for the ice dam removal and water damage repair–they also paid for the asbestos remediation AND the hotel stay during the same. Since the asbestos remediation clocked in at $12,000, that’s no small investment in us and our house.

We’ve had new insulation put in, so we’re now all set–and actually insulated far more than we were to begin with, since the new stuff was done under the Mass Save program (to get us to the right level of insulation). But still…

Since the start of the year, we’ve been buried under nine feet of snow, had ice dams EVERYWHERE, had water damage, had a 2’x2′ hole cut in our ceiling, had electricians stomping all through the house and attic, had insulators come and go, had to leave our house while asbestos remediators carefully removed bag after bag of potentially hazardous material from our house, had insulators come in and re-insulate the attic…and, well, it’s all more than a little overwhelming.

When I say this was the Winter from Hell, I’m just not even exaggerating. There are few things that strike more fear in the heart of a homeowner than knowing they may have had asbestos floating around in their house. It also doesn’t help much that we lost a friend to mesothelioma not quite two years ago. Asbestos is the enemy.

So there you have it. And that’s what’s been going on. So if I’ve been too quiet, I apologize. Things have been…well, just a little busy, and sometimes I feel it’s better to share when the chaos has died down. This wasn’t a fast process, nor was it an inexpensive one, but thanks to Amica, at least we didn’t get ourselves dug into horrific debt on top of all the other stress it caused. And now, back to the normal level of chaos and stress…