Sunday, June 28, 2015

Inside Out

Alternate Title:  Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy

One sentence synopsis:     The personified emotions within a young girl's head struggle to regain control of the situation after her family's traumatic move to San Francisco.

Things Havoc liked:  Pixar has had a rough decade so far. Since the release of their twin-masterpieces WALL-E and Up in 2008/9, and the conclusion of the Toy Story series in 2010, the shining giants of modern animation have looked a lot less shiny and a lot less giant. Cars 2 and Monsters University were both decidedly-underwhelming sequels to already mid-grade properties, at least by Pixar's normal standards, and their one attempt to try something new since then resulted in the decent-but-fragmented Brave. The flames of children's animation have been well-tended in Pixar's absence of course, with both Dreamworks (How to Train Your Dragon) and Disney (Frozen, Big Hero 6) stepping in to fill the absence, but the film landscape has missed Pixar at its best, and I, at least, was hopeful that this new film of theirs, based on a brand new concept, might well re-invigorate a studio whose masterpieces I have missed.

As I'm sure everyone knows by now, Inside Out's conceit is that of anthropomorphized emotions residing within all of us, most specifically Joy, Anger, Disgust, Sadness, and Fear. Voiced variously by assorted stars of television comedies such as The Office, Parks and Recreation, Saturday Night Live, and shows from Comedy Central, these five oversee the internal mental landscape of an eleven-year-old girl named Riley, one that is presented with almost dizzying complexity. There's Headquarters, the center of cognitive thought, whose control board is operated by various emotions in turn, and who can call upon everything from memory storage units to idea crystals. There are personality islands, each one representing large-scale elements of one's core personality, projected off of Long Term Memory storage, a labyrinthine archive of crystal-ball-incarnated memories in varying states of repair. There are thought trains, recall tubes, a literal subconscious prison, and all of them tended to by assiduous armies of mental workers (neurons?), who tend, prune, demolish, rebuild, and otherwise maintain the extravagant machinery of mental functioning that keeps Riley (and apparently everyone else) going. Much of the film consists of several of these prime emotions traveling through the landscape of Riley's mind, and they allow for Pixar to get creative with just what they find in there. Everything is realized beautifully, from an abstract thought forge, which atomizes its contents down to constituent epistemological components (represented as ever-more abstract variations on Pixar's art theme), to a dream studio imagined as a Hollywood backlot, complete with casts and crews, directors and producers, all attempting to put cohesive dreams together on command, sipping their coffee and muttering under their breath about someone calling for the same old nightmare all over again.

But the focus is on the five primary emotions and the girl they comprise, and it's here that Director Pete Doctor (of Up, among other things) does some of the more interesting work. One would imagine that with Joy, Anger, Sadness and Fear all cooped up together, the result would be chaos, but the film posits that all five of them work carefully together to try and do what's best by their charge, readily yielding the floor to one another whenever a situation calls for their compatriots' expertise. All five emotions, even the antithetical ones, seem quite willing to defer to Joy as their natural leader, struggling in her absence not to seize power but to somehow figure out how to do her job properly. All five emotions have their natural roles (indeed that's something of the thesis of the movie), with everything from Fear keeping Riley safe, to Anger asserting her rights to fair treatment, to Disgust preventing her from being poisoned ("physically or socially", Joy puts it). Easy as the temptation would be to place all of these emotions at war with one another, the film probably models much more accurately just how people's emotional responses actually interact with one another. Though Joy and Sadness, our primary characters, do not understand in the least how each other functions, there's no sense of them wishing the other gone, beyond the typical frustration that people with opposed personalities can engender in one another. One does not get the sense that Sadness, for instance, would rather replace Joy as the primary emotional state of Riley, for all five of them want her to be happy, even the ones whose job is quite the opposite.

But enough plot, the focus with Pixar is often the subtext and the details, and this film is filled with them to an extent we haven't seen in quite some time. The best sequences in the film, bar none, are those in which the camera zooms not just into Riley's head, but those of her parents, schoolmates, teachers, and others, giving us a glimpse of their particular mental machinery. In each case, the same five basic emotions are present, albeit subtlely shifted to instantly customize the dynamic in their favor, be it a boy Riley's age going into mental meltdown at the very sight of a girl, to the military precision of her father's emotional direction, to sight gags with a half dozen other characters I would not dream of spoiling here. When not buried within Riley's mind, the film is set in my, and Pixar's, hometown of San Francisco, and while I'm becoming used to seeing my fair city on screen, this film shows off a much deeper understanding of Baghdad by the Bay (look it up), with non-famous landmarks front-and-center such as Lick Middle School, Arizmendi Pizza (a locally famous "worker's collective"), and even the freaking Warming Hut down at Chrissie Field, things you're unlikely to find in a tourist guidebook. Indeed, par for the course with Pixar, the film's subtext is incredibly rich, with a great deal of solid psychological theory being presented in a visual, non-explicative manner, including representations of fairly heavy concepts such as depression, memory loss, suppressed fears, moral compromises, and even the pressures put upon kids (particularly girls) to bury their real feelings and remain superficially happy, so that their parents can safely pretend that everything is all right with them. It's heavy stuff, when you sit down and think about it, and the film does a very good job of getting it across without hitting you over the head with the proverbial hammer.

Things Havoc disliked: But the problem is that you do have to sit down and think about it. Because the movie is entirely subtext.

Now this isn't a bad thing, frankly. More movies could stand to be all about the background at the expense of the foreground. But we're not dealing with Franchise Pictures or The Asylum here, we're dealing with Pixar, whose masterpieces of animated storytelling are some of the most poignant works of art ever committed to digital film. Not everything is gonna be Up or Toy Story 3, I realize, movies that I've seen reduce grown men to tears merely through recollecting them. But for all the wonderfully nuanced ground that this movie core, the emotional core of the picture is just... not really there.

Okay, that's not really fair. The core is there, it's just not very well developed. Pixar's best films struck emotional chords that were universal and poignant and heartfelt and true, and while theoretically all of the above is still the case here, the base fact is that the stakes in Inside Out just aren't immense enough to force the audience to empathize. Riley has moved from Minnesota to San Francisco, leaving all her friends behind and starting a new life. Tough, yes, and traumatic, and we do sympathize with her, particularly as her parents seem utterly unable to realize that the transition is rougher on their daughter than they are permitting her to let on. But while most of us have gone through experiences like this in the past, losing our stability in childhood and having to re-create it, the majority of us are perfectly able to do just that, ultimately, and we see no particular reason why Riley can't. The chaos and hijinx pile up inside Riley's head, certainly, but the actual effects in the real world are limited to her getting frustrated, crying occasionally, and finally opting to do foolish, but perfectly survivable things. Wall-E, by contrast, was a devastating film, utterly ruthless in its emotional manipulation of its viewers, using a Woobie-ish (look it up) character to drive wedges into people's souls. Toy Story 3 reduced entire theaters to blubbering ruin with a ten-minute evocation of childhood things put finally aside, while Up casually obliterated its audience with a silent intro sequence cataloging the full life and bitter loss of a character we had not yet even met. Contrasted with these nuclear emotional weapons, the plot of Inside Out seems almost pedestrian, universal though it might be. We have all been through and survived what Riley is going through, and more importantly, we all recognize that no matter how hard it may seem at the time, it proves, ultimately, to be no great matter.

So what do we get if not a trip down Tissue and Dust-Excuses lane? We have our main characters, and this is where we run into another problem. The dynamic duo of the film are the emotions of Joy and Sadness, and while Joy (Amy Poehler) is an excellent character, whose flaws are well-meaning and whose strengths are invigorating to watch, Sadness (Phyllis Smith), on the other hand... is not. Maybe the filmmakers could not understand what might make a character like this tick, but while Joy is allowed a full rounding, including the options of occasionally just getting sick of everyone else's mopey shit, Sadness meanwhile is one of those characters you just want to strangle, a one-note litany of woe and misery, who does nothing but complain, predict doom and pessimism, and flat out refuse to listen to anyone, lest they be required in doing so to somehow leave the blue funk they are mired in. I get that this is literally a personification of Sadness, I'm not looking for Sandra Dee here. But the other four emotions, particularly Joy, manage to embody their characters fully while still retaining a certain degree of professional competence to them. They know, at the very least, what they're doing when they pull the strings, while Sadness, on the other hand, does not. To an extent this is clearly intentional, as the plot of the film is in no small part, everyone figuring out what Sadness is actually useful for. But implicit in such a plot is the fact that we're going to be spending most of the film not knowing what she's useful for, and movies that spend their entire run-time dragging useless characters around do not have the most sterling reputations in my reviews. I know that a movie like this could not have been easy to put together, but it's not like the Sadness-cognates in everyone else's head are moaning wrecks with no redeeming value. Was there no other way to tell this story than by annoying the characters and audience both with a main character who just. Won't. Listen?

Final thoughts:   Honestly, maybe there wasn't. And lest I sound overly critical, the effect of all this isn't so much as to make them film bad as it is to cap the film at merely "good", which is hardly a damning flaw. Inside Out is presently engaged in earning rapturous acclaim from every critic in existence, all of whom I assume are allowing their gratitude at having Pixar back in any capacity overwrite their good judgment. But then perhaps a little excitement is called for here. Inside Out is not some epochal animated masterpiece on the level of Up or Wall-E or Finding Nemo or even The Incredibles, but it is a solid, interesting, funny, and well-produced film, one which fits fairly easily into Pixar's "second tier" offerings, alongside such movies as Ratatouille, A Bug's Life, or Monsters Inc. It may seem unfair to judge the film by the standards of its betters, but Pixar were the ones who created these high expectations, and they have only themselves to blame if people continuously bring up the old classics and wail and gnash their teeth whenever their modern films don't meet that high standard.

As for me? A good film is all I've ever asked for. Inside Out is indeed a good movie, if not more. In a year half-complete that already gave us Leviathan, Jupiter Ascending, and Ballet 422, one could do so much worse.  And for those who demand only the best from their animated studios, there's always November's pending prequel to Theodore Rex...

... Oh just look it up!

Final Score:  7/10

Next Time:  We've had a good run with Hollywood recently, but it may be time to try the waters overseas again...

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Jurassic World

Alternate Title:  Jurassic Parks & Recreation

One sentence synopsis:     A dinosaur trainer and the chief of operations of the now-active Jurassic World park must stop a transgenic dinosaur after it escapes from captivity.

Things Havoc liked:  Though it has become fashionable to denigrate it in the high critical circles in which I turn, I still maintain that Jurassic Park was one of the great movies of my childhood, a film overflowing with imagination and wonder, one which inaugurated, for better or worse, the modern era of the effects-laden spectacle film, and one whose message and acting were far superior to what a movie about rampaging dinosaurs could reasonably expect to have. Hollywood is a place where one pays for one's privileges, by and large, and Jurassic Park was saddled with a pair of sequels in its day, the former merely mediocre, the latter outright awful. But the mystique of the original film never quite went away, and so here we sit, some twenty years after the first movie, with a new attempt to recapture the magic in the form of a film in which Starlord rides a motorcycle through the jungle alongside his pack of trained Velociraptors.

... okay so maybe we're going for something else this time.

Actually that's more true than you'd expect. Jurassic Park was Steven Spielberg's baby of course, one of his best films from the height of his powers, but Jurassic World is the brainchild of indie director Colin Trevorrow, who both wrote and directed this film, and who was previously best known for 2012's Safety Not Guaranteed, a film I unfortunately managed to miss, but which was apparently a quirky, offbeat indie comedy of the sort that quirky, offbeat Gen-X filmmakers like to make. Trevorrow might seem like a strange pick to helm something this big budget, but Marvel, among other studios, has been leading the charge in converting these sorts of quirky indie directors into quirky blockbuster directors, and they've only profited by that policy, so what the hell. Trevorrow rides the line here between making a Spielberg homage and making a Spielberg movie, but for all the rich callbacks to the original film (something made infinitely easier with a fresh dose of John Williams' iconic score), this isn't the same film as before, being far more in the mold of a Guardians of the Galaxy or Avengers script, a movie that recognizes the narrative and cinematographic history behind this franchise and plays around with it without sacrificing the soul of the film itself. It's the same dance that Marvel's been doing for nearly a decade, and that some studios are finally starting to figure out how to ape, and I can't object one whit to see some real humor and some general reality infused back into this franchise. Indeed one of the standout elements of the movie is just how plausible it all feels, from the details of the Bush-Gardens-style theme park that Jurassic World has become (the over-blatant product placement actually works in the film's favor), including a show in which a Mosasaur is showcased like an Orca at sea world, or glimpses of kayak rides down hadrosaur-lined rivers and a petting zoo featuring baby Triceratops fitted with miniature saddles. This is exactly how Six Flags or the Disney Corporation would build a theme park around Dinosaurs, and it lends the film a nice veneer of reality for when the creatures start to eat everyone.

Oh and speaking of Guardians of the Galaxy, let's consider our heroes. Chris Pratt, last seen saving the universe with the assistance of awesome 80s music and a dance-off, this time is playing Owen Grady, a Velociraptor trainer, or at least the closest thing to it. The film's trailers proudly showcased Grady riding off to battle with the aid of his raptor buddies, a concept that was admittedly kind of awesome, but also ludicrously stupid, and one of the nice surprises that Jurassic World has is that the filmmakers seem to agree with that analysis. Grady is not some dino-whisperer or hippie who communes with the animals (Vince Vaughn's turn in The Lost World continues to haunt me), but a former navy trainer from what one presumes is their dolphin-and-seal program, who wastes no time (in or out of universe) explaining that while he has made many strides in getting the raptors to understand him, they are wild, dangerous animals, as liable to kill him as they are to do what he says. The inability of the rest of the cast to understand this fact (I guess they saw the trailers too?) actually forms a significant chunk of the plot of the film, alongside the usual themes of scientific hubris and life-finding-ways. Ably assisted by Omar Sy (of Intouchables, which you should be watching right now) Grady is employed by billionaire Simon Masrani, played beautifully by Bollywood actor Irrfan Khan, whom I last saw in Life of Pi, and who here plays a lunatic playboy of equal parts Richard Branson and Dr. Morrow. Khan, who for all his Bollywood training has always played a fairly restrained set of characters in western cinema, plays this character like someone who has read the script and decided to gleefully steal all of the best one-liners for himself, come hell or high water. His arguments with returning character Henry Wu (B.D. Wong) over what the nature of Jurassic World really is highlights the lampshade placed upon the entire concept, as well as acknowledging the annoyances of those who felt that the dinosaurs needed updating with modern understandings of their physiology (by which we mean feathers).

Ah but let's discuss those dinosaurs, shall we? It's 2015, not 1993, and we're no longer as impressed by seeing impossible creatures on screen as we once were. The film, rather thankfully, seems to be aware of this fact as well, and rather than engaging in the sweeping spectacle shots of the original film (remember the sequence where they first see the Brachiosaur?) which would never have worked today, the film takes a wider view, using the dinosaurs the way a superhero movie uses costumes or a sci fi movie robots, elements that simply exist within the world whose draw is not their mere presence, but the ways in which they can interact with the rest of the cast and setting. Great attention is paid to the dinosaurs as individual dinosaurs, both the crazed transgenic monster that Ingen's scientists have conjured up ("Indominus Rex" is exactly the kind of stupid bad-latin meaningless name that might come from a corporate focus group), as well as individual raptors (Pratt's project raptors have their own names, personalities, and heirarchy) and even other dinosaurs, identified specifically as characters in their own right with their own quirks and identifying marks. The original Jurassic Park regarded their dinos with a broad brush, this many raptors, that many Brachiosaurs. This film, in most cases does not, something helped, as in the first movie, by the ground-eye view of a couple of kids. I'm well aware that movies like this tend to fail thanks to their need to include annoying children who stubbornly refuse to be eaten by the lizards, but the original Jurassic Park used them to decent effect to punctuate the sheer wonder of what they were presenting. Being less-focused on wonder and more focused on cool, this film also gets pretty decent mileage from their child actors, including Iron Man 3's Ty Simpkins. YMMV of course, but I at least was not left with the urge to strangle them by the end of the film.

Things Havoc disliked: Jurassic Park was a serious movie, a movie about grandeur and spectacle and questions of scientific hubris, starring serious actors like Richard Attenborough and Sam Neil (yes, Sam Neil was a serious actor once). Jurassic World, on the other hand, for all the sincere speeches about respect for wild animals and bringing joy to the children of the world, is a movie about Starlord riding through the jungle on a motorcycle alongside his pack of trained raptors. In terms of content and tone, we are dealing with a much sillier, much stupider version of the original tale. Even Irrfan Khan, cast here almost literally in the John Hammond role of the avuncular old billionaire who wants to run the park for the betterment of the world, is tasked in this film with flying a helicopter gunship against genetically-engineered Supersauruses, and flights of man-eating Pterodactyls. I'm all for irreverent jaunts down the snarky side of sci fi, but this movie positively falls over itself to wink at the audience, with everything from slapstick routines by Jimmy Fallon, to cameos by Jimmy Buffet, of all people. And while the result is fun, it deadens all other reactions that the movie might engender. Jurassic Park, in addition to everything else, was an extremely tense movie at times, with unseen monsters stalking their prey and revealed only by a twitch of a leaf or the drumbeat of a footstep. Jurassic World tries to evoke this, sometimes stealing from its originator shot-for-shot, but cannot convince the audience to take it seriously enough for any real tension, especially since the characters involved in it never do. The plot is predictable and honestly quite pedestrian, with obtuse military-industrial-complexes-are-bad themes that the original film eschewed entirely (though it's worth noting that The Lost World did not). Fun though the film is, that's more or less all it is, and the entire project seems a bit... shallow. A few moments where the movie puts the brakes on the winking asides and allows itself a moment of sentimentality (including a standout scene wherein two characters discover the ruins of the old park's visitor's center) only serves to highlight how much is missing from the rest of the film.

And part of the reason for that is the unevenness of the cast. Bryce Dallas Howard, daughter of Ron and former protege of disgraced director M Night Shayamalan, takes on the role of Claire Dearing, the operations director of Jurassic World. She's not very good, partly because her character is utterly forgettable, being a typical workaholic-who-needs-to-learn-to-lighten-up routine that I've only seen a good three thousand times. Howard, who is usually known for playing strange, naive waifs, plays this character like she's doing a low-rent Jessica Chastain impression, and despite the issues I've had with Chastain in the past, she would have been a far better pick for a role like this, one which requires her to project a commanding, responsible presence, one that could believably be in charge of a project this immense. Another person I'd have replaced is my favorite bugbear and yours, Vincent Freaking D'Onofrio, a man who never saw a role he couldn't suck at. D'Onofrio is coming off a series of good reviews for his work on the Daredevil Netflix show, unseen by me, but even if he's managed to reinvent himself there, it doesn't translate in this film. It's not so much that D'Onofrio is awful, but that his character, a military contractor looking to find ways to use Dinosaurs to hunt terrorists (which is a concept both unspeakably stupid and undeniably somewhat awesome), is a mess. The film hints at evil plots he may be involved in without ever paying them off, and has him deliver a whole series of smug "let me describe the right-wing worldview that will get me karmically punished in approximately seventeen minutes" lectures, which really serve nothing beyond hammering home the lesson that "war is bad" or some damn thing. Neither of these two actually ruin the movie, but they are the sorts of annoying, unconvincing performances that the original film pointedly lacked, even when it involved Newman from Seinfeld cackling madly to himself as he hid dinosaur embryos in a bottle of shaving cream.

Final thoughts:   I've done an awful lot of comparing of Jurassic World to Jurassic Park, and to a degree that's unfair, as movies deserve to be considered on their own terms, even sequels. But it's almost impossible to avoid something like that with Jurassic World, so dedicated is it to the legacy of its predecessor. Brimming with references, throwaway asides, and sequences lifted in loving (or larcenous) homage to the original masterpiece, Jurassic World may not be as good a movie as Jurassic Park, but it is, at long last, what feels like a proper sequel to it. The tone may be entirely different and the quality of the acting and plotting may not be as good, but Jurassic World is still at its core a movie intended to be fun, and a lot of fun it is. It's an energetic, exciting, visually stimulating blockbuster, with more than its fair share of awesome setpieces and just enough actual substance underlying it to avoid collapsing into a Snowpiercer-like chasm of context-free cinematography-porn. My fondness for the original film probably tilts me a little bit in this one's favor, but the movie is a good one regardless, no masterpiece perhaps, but not every film has to be.

Given the records this thing has made at the box office, I'm guessing that this is not the last Jurassic Park movie we're going to be seeing. Hopefully the sequels to this one can avoid the fate of the previous sequels, and stick to something sincere and functional, or at least display their stupidity in a way that doesn't make them unwatchable. After all, I don't demand that all my movies be smart. I just demand that the stupid ones commit.

Final Score:  7/10

Next Time:  Can Pixar recapture the magic?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


Alternate Title:  Earning the Asshole Badge

One sentence synopsis:     A CIA analyst is converted into a field agent after her partner is murdered by an arms dealer plotting to sell nuclear weapons to the highest bidder.

Things Havoc liked:  I don't see a huge number of comedies, if only because most comedies look insipid when viewed only from trailers. In consequence, I've not seen a lot of Melissa McCarthy's work, though like everyone else who's into film, I do know of her at the very least. What I know is not terribly flattering, as McCarthy seems to be trying to position herself as a female Danny McBride, a fat, loud asshole, who gets a bunch of laughs by virtue of acting like an unapologetic shithead to everyone in sight. Why this schtick is regarded as funny is beyond me, as I deal with enough assholes in my regular life to go and seek them out in a setting that, by the nature of film, will glamorize their assholery and hold them up as a shining example due to some mitigating factor, competence perhaps, or even just "telling it like it is". I cannot, as a rule, stand media cored around this sort of concept, one of the primary reasons why I could never watch House, but even with my most deeply-held prejudices, there are always exceptions. And with a week to kill before the launch of Jurassic World, which by the time of the writing of this review I should have already seen and be in mid-production of the review for, I opted this week to follow the recommendation of my sister, who saw this film in the company of both our mother and our octogenarian grandmother, and professed that not only did she enjoy herself, so did everyone else. My grandmother has... eclectic tastes at times, but given this report, I felt it behooved me to see what was going on, to see, if nothing else, if they had found a way to make me tolerate an archetype I roundly despise.

Well not to put too fine a point on it, but yes, yes they did.

How did they accomplish this miracle, you may be asking? Well they used one of the oldest tricks in the storyteller's book. If you're having trouble getting the audience to sympathize with an unlikeable character, you really have two options: either soften the character, or make everyone around them worse. Not content with doing things by half measures, experienced McCarthy-collaborator Paul Feig, director of this film as well as Bridesmaids and The Heat, decided this time to take the writer's job on as well and produced a script that does both. Far from being the customary loud-mouthed asshole, McCarthy's character, Susan Cooper, is established as being one small step away from a middle-aged cat lady (this joke is made explicitly and at length), a competent desk agent for the CIA who manages to disguise her greater ambitions under a mousy exterior, and who silently pines for her field-partner, super-spy Bradley Fine (Jude Law). Thrust into the role of field agent after Fine's murder and a contrivance concerning the leak of other agents' identities, McCarthy spends the first half of the movie or so alternately flustered or completely over her head, only easing into her customary abrasive personality over the course of the film. Not only is this waaaaaay more tolerable than spending the entire movie in the company of someone I'd rather shoot dead and bury in the desert, it also serves to give her a reason for being an insulting prick, as she is more or less forced to act this way in order to survive amidst cutthroats, killers, terrorists, and men with more testosterone than brains. What's more, to my (and seemingly everyone else's) surprise, McCarthy actually pulls off both sides of this character, convincingly appearing as a lovelorn loser as well as an ass-kicking super-spy. It probably helps that I don't have a lot of experience with her films, and thus don't automatically cringe when I see her face, but it's notable regardless, especially considering how many schtick comedians are consistently unable to operate outside their narrow repertoire (I'm looking at you, Will Ferrell).

But the real strength of Spy is the second element of the modifications that Feig made to the formula this time round, specifically the act of surrounding McCarthy with a bevy of gargantuan, staggering assholes, ones so much worse than she could possibly be that it becomes cathartically enjoyable to see McCarthy inflict herself upon them. One such asshole is Jason Statham, playing rogue super-spy Rick Ford in a very intentional send-up to other Jason Statham roles, a hyper-masculine, dim-witted, clenched-teeth badass-in-name-only, whose tales of his legendary awesomeness become more and more increasingly insane ("I once re-attached my severed arm with my other severed arm!") as the movie goes on. I've always admired Statham, even in bad movies, but he's flat out hilarious this time, playing a role that none of his Expendables cast-mates would ever dare try to pull off, a role that lampoons and heaps mockery upon every other thing he's done in his entire career. Only slightly less over-the-top is X-men First Class' Rose Byrne, playing the daughter of a Bulgarian warlord whom McCarthy must surveil in order to locate the MacGuffin that drives the plot. Byrne's character is a pastiche of the most arrogant form of Eurotrash imaginable, a thoroughly loathsome bitch whose conceit is so towering that McCarthy swinging in on a wrecking ball to demolish the entire edifice in classic fashion actually forms some of the best scenes in the entire movie. Smaller roles go to West Wing's Allison Janney, playing McCarthy's deadpan boss, to Phantom Menace's Peter Serafinowicz, playing a raunchy Italian agent inflicted on McCarthy throughout the film, and to British standup comedian Miranda Hart, playing McCarthy's friend, the only CIA agent in existence even more hapless than McCarthy herself. The movie also features a whole series of cameos, mostly well-executed, including one that serves to prove that my initial impressions from Escape Plan were correct, and 50 Cent is simply incapable of acting in any form.

Things Havoc disliked: The plot is utterly forgettable in a movie like this, which I don't mind generally, except when it starts to get in the way of the film, which unfortunately, here, it does. It's not that the plot is over-complex, though it verges on it, with multiple betrayals and side-switchings on the part of assorted characters, some of whom don't seem to have anything to do with anything whatsoever (Firefly's Morena Baccarin being the biggest offender here). The primary issue though is that the plot seems to take itself seriously and then not seriously almost at random, going to rather elaborate lengths to arrange McCarthy's entrance into fieldwork only to suddenly and conveniently forget what she's supposed to be doing and what the stated consequences of performing or not performing certain actions were established as being. As before, I don't mind when a movie dispenses with the unimportant crap and gets to the fun part, but you can't do that sort of thing by halves. Either the plot matters or it does not, and discarding the plot once McCarthy suddenly finds her normal voice only serves to generate flashbacks in my mind to McCarthy's bad old habits of playing characters who got away with murder purely because they were loud and obnoxious.

But the worse sin is that of McCarthy's character itself, and this is no fault of McCarthy but of the movie she finds herself in. Her character is quite effectively established as being a retiring, shy sort, and McCarthy can of course play a loud, abrasive asshole with the best of them. What the movie doesn't handle well is the transition between these two things, by which I mean there is no transition whatsoever. McCarthy finds herself in a situation that seems to warrant being a giant dick, and simply becomes one. There's no trace of hesitation or awkwardness to her as she suddenly metamorphs into something previously entirely alien to her entire experience, and even in a broad comedy, that's a lot to swallow. Yes, the movie does pre-establish that there's probably more to her than meets the eye from the get go (a sequence wherein McCarthy has to explain the footage of her beating the crap out of instructors and trainees alike in her training courses from ten years earlier is handled fairly well), and I do indeed tend to prefer it when movies don't belabor points we already know. But something has to be there for the audience to follow the character at all, and the lack thereof not only robs us of the chance for a truly epic moment of cathartic joy, customary when a demure character finally has too much and snaps into a nuclear rage, but also leaves us to wonder (as several of the characters do) just why the hell McCarthy was such milquetoast in the first place if this sort of thing was not only inside her the entire time, but apparently readily accessible for whenever she needed to suddenly tear a pretentious asshole into sobbing ribbons.

Final thoughts:   Like Hercules or Fast & Furious 7 before it, Spy is manifestly not a great movie, but it is a considerably better film than I, and I would guess many others, had previously imagined possible, a movie that finally figures out just how to frame someone like McCarthy in a way that will actually appeal to, instead of repelling, large sections of its audience. A throwaway plot, clunky construction, and suspect characterization of the main character do not do the movie justice, but they equally do not prevent it from actually being funny, something a lot of asshole-comedies, including many of McCarthy's, have had trouble with in the past. I wouldn't say that it somehow flash-converted me into a fan of hers, but all I've ever asked of this project is to be allowed to see movies that I can enjoy the act of watching. And given that Spy offered me that much, if little more, what standing have I to really complain?

Here's to hoping that McCarthy and her directors learn the right lesson from the success of this, reasonably good movie. I meanwhile, have to go and see if someone else has learned the lessons of several other, entirely terrible ones.

Final Score:  6.5/10

Next Time:  Clever girl...

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Ex Machina

Alternate Title:  PEBKAC

One sentence synopsis:     A young developer at a massive software company is invited by the company's reclusive CEO to participate in a Turing Test of his newly-developed AI robot.

Things Havoc liked:  So that was a pretty intense review last time, wasn't it, guys? What's say we take on something a little more relaxing and low-key? How about a weird, transhumanist sci-fi piece?

It's been a while since I saw a movie like this one, a movie whose intentions are decidedly non-standard and aimed at the existentialists among us, and whose ambition is to ask the Big Burning Questions and find highly debatable answers to them. I tend to be kind of lukewarm on this sort of fare, as it's a difficult balancing act to pull off. Too easily, movies turn into Transcendance or the Matrix sequels, bullshit luddite scare-story crap about how technology will ruin us all and science is evil. And Ex Machina's possession of the dreaded "universal critical acclaim" moniker, the one that has gotten me in so much trouble in the past, did not incline me originally to go and see it when it first came out. But several factors, including strong recommendations from real people whose opinions I trust, and the pedigree of the director, Alex Garland, better known as the screenwriter of 28 Days Later, Dredd, and Sunshine (all three of which are excellent films, even if it took me a year or so to recognize Dredd as one), finally convinced me that this time it was worth taking a shot. With a certain Dinosaur-related movie casting a rain shadow on the horizon, I wasn't exactly spoiled for choice.

After several years in which I didn't hear anything, all of a sudden I seem to be buried in Oscar Isaac. Early this year it was A Most Violent Year, a role entirely divorced from the last turn of his I'd seen in Suckerpunch, and now we find him here, playing Nathan Bateman, a Mark-Zuckerberg-style CEO/genius of a Google-analog search engine giant named Bluebook. Ensconced in his reclusive mountain hideaway (more on that later), he has managed to produce an AI of incredible complexity, incarnated in a somewhat human-looking robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander). He now seeks to test the robot's actual intelligence the only way he knows how, which is to have it undergo a Turing test administered by a randomly-selected employee from Bluebook, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson). This basic concept underscores the entire film, albeit with increasingly strange intercessions from the insecurities and hidden agendas of all three of our protagonists, but serves as a compelling enough thread to hang the movie on. Isaac, whom I've been on record as praising the work of several times before, is just as good here as he was back in January, playing in this case a meat-headed, bro-ey super-techie, the sort of which abounds in Silicon Valley, I assure you. If he's not engaged in drinking himself into a blackout stupor, he's engaged in working out compulsively and being a giant DudeBro, a term which should require no translation if you think about it long enough. In between the slurred babble and the power lifting though, Isaac manages to easily get across the mad genius of the character, who obfuscates everything he's actually intending to do behind layers of comradely artifice, as well as the sociopathy inherent in anyone who would willingly construct a survival bunker in the middle of what appears to be the Yukon and there compulsively build and deconstruct robots by himself. This character would not have worked with a lesser actor behind it, but Isaac makes Bateman feel less like a contrived introvert than the natural consequences of mating a genius mind with an amoral god-complex CEO. Larry Ellison would be right at home with this guy, if he were smart enough.

The other half of the movie is anchored on Vikander's turn as Ava, and it's equally good, a performance that rides the line between an animatronic puppet and a calculating, thinking machine, dipping from one to the next periodically just to give the audience flashes of what might be going on beneath. Literally created to appeal to the guileless Caleb, she appears to know it, and confronts him, immediately, with questions as to whether or not Bateman is a reliable experiment-runner. The repeated question of what will happen to her if she doesn't pass the Turing Test, one which she brings up whenever she seems to feel it is safe to do so, is the occasion for one of the film's trippier (and more disturbing) sequences. By and large though, Vikander manages to portray a robot who, whatever your personal reaction to her might be (the filmmakers/Bateman clearly designed her with the uncanny valley in mind), always seems fully capable of the odd actions she takes, having established the character, initially, as one whose capacities are clearly deeper than anyone, including her is letting on.

As I said before, movies like this like to ask the Big Questions, and then have characters wrestle with them on-screen for the benefit of the audience. There's nothing wrong with this approach, particularly considering that the film sidesteps several elements that usually derail these sorts of movies, bypassing the inevitable "how did you do this" exposition dump with the clever conceit that the genius is sick of giving seminars and just wants to talk to someone. A lot of good metaphysical ground is covered here, with the movie quickly skipping past definitions and into philosophy, including the famous "Mary's Room" knowledge argument concerning qualia and the subjectivity of experience. One of the best sequences in the film in fact is when Bateman explains, not the means by which he created Ava, but the inspiration. The notion of a Search Engine as the model for consciousness and human experience makes a great deal of intrinsic sense when you stop and think about it, and the film posits several interesting suggestions both in the course of the discussions that Bateman and Caleb have, and via the slow revelation of the actual agendas of the characters involved. Consciousness is a difficult problem for philosophers even today, and the film at least acknowledges that this is not going to get any easier once we manage to make robots that are convincingly human. After all, the core problem with the Turing Test is that the best judges we have for evaluating them are humans.

Things Havoc disliked: I like a movie that knows what it's about, and doesn't mess around with frivolities, but there's a difference between a movie that cuts out the fat and a movie that cuts out the meat, and Ex Machina is quite unfortunately the latter case. I know that we're here to think about the philosophy and marvel at the metaphysics of it all, but all along, the grumpy old rational part of my brain kept chiming in with old-man arguments concerning that annoying little plot.

Remember what I said above, about a reclusive billionaire living in the Yukon and building AI-controlled robots? Does any element of that seem... I don't know... weird to you? I mean yes, Bateman's established quite well as a weird guy, but there's weird guys, and there's conceits that just make no sense. Bateman's private sanctuary is so far removed from civilization that it takes two hours in a helicopter just to get from the edges of his private estate to the center of it, which leads to inevitable questions concerning things like supplies. More importantly, he lives with no actual support staff, a servant named Kyoko is quickly revealed to be just another part of the experiment. Elementary precaution would seem to indicate that perhaps creating radical new forms of life is the sort of thing one might wish to do in a circumstance wherein there are faster means than Dogsled to reach you in case something goes terribly wrong. I'm aware that guys like Bateman or the other Silicon Valley demigods are more than capable of producing a God complex big enough to assume that they can personally take care of anything that goes wrong, but we the audience, as objective observers, are asked to accept that Bateman is a mad genius, orchestrating this entire thing for the benefit of his tests. That's hard to do when elementary mistakes that could lead to cataclysmic consequences seem littered about his setup. One of the worse is that he seems completely unable to master the seemingly random breakdowns in the compound's power systems that take place periodically, even though we've established that he is clearly the greatest mechanical and electrical engineer on the face of the planet. So incongruous is this that I, at least, assumed it was a plot point, to be revealed later on as "all part of the plan". Without spoiling too much, the movie seems to intend this to be the actual case, something mind-boggling to me, particularly given that we, the audience, figure out what the causes of these breakdowns are in very short order. I can't tell, at this juncture, if this is intended to be some commentary on the notion that Bateman isn't actually as smart as he thinks he is, or if the filmmakers actually thought that audiences would be kept in total suspense as to who was behind an unexplained phenomenon in a film with three characters, one of whom is incapable of producing that phenomenon, and the other of whom is trying to stop it. Indeed, the answers to this and other plot points were so obvious, that I, at least, out-thought myself in assuming that the film could not possibly be as simplistic as it was pretending to be, right up until it revealed that it was.

There's also the issue of the third of our three main characters, Caleb himself. Domhnall Gleeson is not an actor I know a great deal about, other than the fact that he's the son of the great Brandon Gleeson, whom I love dearly. But based on this performance, I'm not about to extend that love to the son. His character is simply all over the place, a confident, calculating, expert analyst in the sessions with Ava, who degenerates into a bumbling, overawed goofball in other sequences, before more or less going crazy and doing strange things for no reason. It's not entirely Gleeson's fault, mind you, that this all happens. About midway through the movie, the film has him undergo a personality shift so abrupt and involving actions so self-destructive that I was half-suspecting (overthinking again) that we were about to reveal some Blade Runner-esque twist wherein he was a robot all along. Nothing of the sort materializes of course, but it causes the movie to become very confused. You cannot make a film that is about grappling with deep metaphysical concepts like the nature of consciousness and the subjectivity of experience, and then turn around and also shoehorn in a plot about psychological obsession and madness. It's not that the movie gets overloaded, though it does, but that the very nature of a metaphysical argument requires that the participants be of reasonably sound mind for us, as the audience, to gain anything from their discussion. If we layer actual insanity (which appears to be what's happening here) on top of the metaphysics, then how are the conclusions to make any sense to those of us not suffering from total psychotic breaks with reality? Say what you will about the Matrix, they made the effort to make Neo into an everyman, a window whereby the audience could connect with the weird philosophical stuff on display. Without that window, there's no common experience to use as a bridge, which buries the movie's actual intended themes under a tangle of artifice and broken perspective. Artsy filmmakers may love that sort of thing. I don't.

Final thoughts:   Ex Machina is a good film, worth seeing in almost any context, interesting and engaging in its own unique way. It is not, however, a great film. It certainly aspires to greatness, as any good film should, but in its haste to get there, it did not sufficiently tie up the boring mechanics of plot and credulity and character development that are the bases for great films. It is also not the first movie I have seen to do this, as this sort of thing does tend to afflict high-concept sci-fi on the harder end of the spectrum, generally because a young, skillful, "visionary" director felt that this concept for the film was so far beyond the usual Hollywood fare that he needed to bring it to life, and could not be bothered to attend to the more boring parts of storytelling, so eager was he to produce something new. This is not really criticism on my part. New concepts do need to be nurtured and grown with care, often by directors and filmmakers with more enthusiasm and talent than mature judgment. But Ex Machina, for all its virtues, is not as revolutionary as it thinks it is, and certainly not revolutionary enough to excuse basic filmcraft mistakes as wide as these.

All that said, I don't want to leave everyone with the wrong impression here. Flawed though it undoubtedly is, there is something highly engaging about Ex Machina's simplistic structure and broad conceptual themes. They may not be completely revolutionary, but they are rare enough to be worth notice, and a chance to see good actors hashing these issues out is not one to be forsaken lightly. I am, after all, on record as having claimed more than once that a film does not need to be flawless to be a masterpiece, and that indeed, some masterpieces are better for the flaws contained within them. I wouldn't go so far with Ex Machina, necessarily, but it's a unique little film, and one worth checking out if high-concept is at all your thing.

As to Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson? They'll be appearing together once again in another little sci-fi film coming out later on this year. But we'll get to that one in good time...

Final Score:  7/10

Next Time:  Time to go see giant, angry monsters killing people and rampaging across the screen uncontrollably, sending people screaming in every direction in their wake.

No, not the ones you're thinking of...

Sunday, June 7, 2015


Alternate Title:  Ad Astra Scientia

One sentence synopsis:     The optimistic daughter of a NASA engineer and an exiled inventor of super-technology search for a mysterious paradise where the world's geniuses have sequestered themselves.

Things Havoc liked:  It occurred to me, midway through this film, that at some point in the last thirty years, the term "utopian" became an insult.

It wasn't always an insult, you see. Back in the 1950s, "utopian" was a term that a number of powerful individuals proudly used to describe themselves. People like Isaac Azimov, Gene Roddenberry, or Buckminster Fuller. People like Walt Disney, who constructed EPCOT in Florida as a prototype for a futuristic perfect society, where the ills of the world were to be banished from the world via advanced technology. There was a lot to criticize about the Utopians and their dreams of the future, and no shortage of people, then and now, to apply that criticism, to the point where, somewhere around the time I was born, Utopianism, and for that matter, optimism itself, became a dirty word, a label to be thrown at one's political opponents when they failed to play sufficiently hard on the politics of fear. And if you want proof of that, consider just how many of the people reading this paragraph will now begin accusing me of malfeasance for merely writing the previous sentence. Today's society is immeasurably more advanced than that of 1953. War, crime, and violence have been considerably truncated for large swatches of the world's population. Every index of human misery has been free-fall since the end of WWII if not before. We communicate with one another across vast distances with such ease as to beggar belief in our parents' lifetimes, while living longer and healthier lives than anyone has ever lived in the history of mankind. And yet despite all this, we as a nation, a society, and frankly as a culture, are the least-optimistic, most-depressed generation in written memory, one whose definition of "the future" is universally grim and filled with ruin, devastation and death, and whose reaction to this, by and large, has been to seek out groups of people external to ourselves, political, national, social, or whatnot, and blame them for the impending catastrophes we all accept as inevitable.

Please hold your angry denunciations of me as stupid, naive, or the root of all evils in the world that only you are enlightened enough to see until the review is over. There is actually a point to me saying all this.

Tomorrowland, a film directed by Brad Bird, director and writer of The Incredibles, of The Iron Giant, and of Batteries Not Included, and protege of the legendary animator Milt Kahl, one of Disney's famous Nine Old Men, is a movie about the subject I have just touched on. It is about the death of optimism and hope for the future, and its replacement by nihilistic obsessions with the theorized "comeuppance" that we all imagine lies just around the corner for some vast, nebulous mass of people that we imagine to be our enemies, one that we all desire so intently that merely suggesting positive possibilities for things to come is regarded as robbing us of the ability to sit, Cassandra-like, in judgment before our inferior, sheep-like peers, and must at all costs be crushed. That's a heavy topic for a Disney film rated PG to carry, I appreciate, but there it sits regardless, a movie that in today's climate seems almost transgressive in its embrace of the ideals that led Disney to create his vision of Tomorrowland in the first place. It's not that the movie is about sunshine and happiness and how everything is wonderful and will remain so, far from it. But it embodies the suggestion, one that has gotten me literally assaulted in the past, that perhaps fixating to the exclusion of all else on the notion that everything is and always will be terrible, and that it is the fault of everyone who does not complain loudly enough on command, is kind of counterproductive. There is a scene, early on in the film, where our hero, a girl in high school with a love of science and the possibilities it offers, asks her teacher at the end of a multi-hour lecture on all the ills that afflict society today, what they should do about Global Warming. She acknowledges that it is real, and that it is a major problem, but asks if they can discuss what remedies there might be instead of going on and on at length about how awful it all is. Her teacher's reaction is to send her to the principal's office for being a "climate change denier", an over-the-top reaction that no doubt sounds ludicrously silly to all of you, and probably would sound the same to me if it wasn't the exact thing that I've had happen to me more than a dozen times, to the point where I've had to ask friends of mine to go find an actual climate change denier somewhere and stop barraging me with "New proof of irrevocable climate change that is going to doom us all!" articles in their stead. Requests that have, of course, gotten me accused of being a climate change denier.

... sorry. Sorry, I'm... Let me try this from the top again.

Britt Robertson, an actress I've never seen before, plays Casey Newton, a high school girl from Florida whose father is a NASA engineer now out of work due to NASA shutting down (Oh god, Interstellar flashback!!!). Through a convoluted series of circumstances, she comes into possession of a strange pin, which reveals a sort of holographic advertisement for a super-futuristic society located God-knows-where, which she doggedly sets out to find. Along the way she encounters George Clooney, playing a very typical George Clooney-type of curmudgeon named Frank, a man who once, as a child, was a citizen of this fantastical future paradise only to be thrown out when the world turned dark and the prevailing philosophy became less utopian benefit-of-mankind, and more Atlas-Shrugged withdraw-from-the-world-and-let-it-burn. This is the kind of pairing, curmudgeon with optimistic kid, that has been in use forever, from Up to Back-to-the-Future, and it works pretty well here, as Clooney is playing to his strengths and Robertson manages to never push too far into saccharine schmaltz. They are joined along the way by a cast of very strange people, including a robot (Raffey Cassidy) who is built to resemble an eleven-year-old girl and who is also built to be a killing machine no less lethal than Kick Ass' Hit Girl, and the enigmatic leader of Tomorrowland itself, Hugh Laurie, who effectively appears to be playing John Galt. Whatever you may think of my insanities or the ludicrousness of the themes I called out above, these characters all play together quite well, embracing the insanities that comes with a romp through old-school super-science. A scene in which Terminators attempt to murder our heroes at Frank's house, only for him to unleash a series of death traps inspired by Home Alone crossed with Star Trek sets the scene quite nicely, as does a later sequence in which we discover that Gustav Eifel, Nicolai Tesla, Thomas Edison, and Jules Verne all collectively helped build the Eifel Tower as a spaceship, which our heroes must use to travel to the moon, preparatory to opening portals to another dimension. It's this kind of handwaved bonkers super-science that cores the film, and if that's your thing, then perhaps you should just ignore all of my ramblings and consider the film on its own merits.

Things Havoc disliked: On the other hand, perhaps you shouldn't, because whatever you think of the setting or the actors or the themes of this film, it's hard to get past the fact that this movie is clunky as all hell.

It's a risk in movies like this after all that the sugary-optimism of the concept will turn the plot and the film itself to mush, but that's not precisely what I mean. What I mean is that the movie is badly structured and in several places quite badly written, particularly in the third act, which devolves into a barely-coherent plan to "save the day" by doing... you know I'm still not entirely sure. The film has a perfectly competent set of antagonists in the form of evil animatronic robots with plasma weapons out to keep our heroes from Tomorrowland, and a phalanx of Randian technocrats conspiring to do the same. All of a sudden at the end though we have to do something else, use bombs to demolish a precognitive piece of equipment because it will... I don't know... show the Randians they're wrong or something? The movie gets downright muddled by the end to the point where I had a great deal of trouble figuring out why people were doing any particular thing, something not helped by everyone behaving with impeccable politeness and gratuitous concern towards the feelings of the people alternately trying to murder them with killer robots, or whom they are trying to murder in turn.

But plot confusion isn't the sum of it, for the biggest sin this film commits is that of exposition dumping, most pointedly in a terrible scene near to the end of the film wherein a character gets the most gratuitous "dumping my entire life story at the end of my plot arc" sequence I've seen since the last half-hour of Snowpiercer. As with that ill-starred atrocity, this grinds the film to an abrupt and abject halt, as a character narrates their own backstory ad-nauseum through a flashback journal format that is honestly difficult to watch. Other moments sprinkled through the film play out like obligatory touchpoints on some storyboard framework, wherein we need this character to undergo this narrative crisis at this moment before this stirring musical string pulls us all back together. As before, this afflicts the film more in the third act than the first, and while I go back and forth as to whether or not this is better or worse than the alternative, it certainly does not do the film any favors. But even when these things are not being done, the movie is just... crudely made, every element of it exaggerated to the point of absurdity, something which works when the film is taking refuge in audacity, but otherwise simply torpedoes its own point. The scene I mentioned earlier, of the teacher who punishes the student for asking about Climate Change solutions, is done in such a ridiculous, over-the-top manner, with an earnest, plucky hero asking questions of a leering, looming teacher framed in underlighting, whose eyes bug out of their head in barely-suppressed rage or shock at the notion that someone would dare ask such a question, that it no doubt would be hilarious to anyone not pre-disposed to find something entirely different in the scene. And as I fear I am the only such person in the room (for varying definitions of "room"), my expectation is that most people will find this film rather amateurish, overall.

Final thoughts:   Despite what those who disagree with me may think, I exert immense effort to try and be as objective as I can for these films, a quixotic effort I know with something as subjective as movies, but worth the attempt regardless. Tomorrowland, however, may simply represent an impossibility insofar as that is concerned, as my abiding memory of it, even more than a week later, is not of stupendous super-science or plot contrivances or heroes or villains or writing bad or good. My abiding memory of this film is instead of watching something happen on screen that I honestly did not think I would ever see happen in any context or in any circumstance. I don't mean pure optimism, for that has been the stuff of Hollywood since time immemorial, with heroes beating villains and so on, but rather a defense of a concept of the Future, capital 'F' intended, something that has been the recipient of so much deconstructive rejection over the course my entire lifetime that one struggles anymore to understand just what everyone is reacting against. There comes a time when the reactions against some perceived bias or imbalance in the cultural landscape (read whatever you like into that) begins to form its own imbalance in turn, and this movie's point is that we have, perhaps, reached that point. And that it might be time to take a moment off of crying about impending doom long enough to consider what steps we might wish to take to act against it. The reaction against sugary 50s-style Tommorowland optimism was not misplaced, of course, indeed it was grounded in the very real fact that the utopians of the day liked to handwave inconvenient problems away as not being relevant, and declare that the world would be great so long as everyone thought and acted (and looked) as they did. But the utopians of the day have been dead for many decades now. And a great many of us are still engaged in screaming rejection at their tombstones, pausing only to turn on the people passing by who are not screaming as loudly as we, using them as convenient surrogates for the utopians who no longer exist.

Tomorrrowland is many things, and not all of them are good, but at its heart it is a validation of the concept that Walt Disney once evoked when he was asked about criticism his EPCOT project had (rightly) received. "You have to show people a version of the future that they would wish to stick around to see," he said. "And nobody else is doing that." Whether or not that was true then, it certainly is true now, at least on a large scale. Without targeting such well-beaten horses as "the media" or this or that political party, we are all, as a group, seemingly determined to do nothing but heap miseries on one another, fearful that if we do not do so, someone will accuse us of failing to wake up and see the miseries around us, and thereby make them our fault. Anyone who questions the need to do anything except express dire predictions of doom and gloom, subtly shaded to make those who disagree with us culpable for these calamities, is ipso facto the reason why they are happening at all. Darfur occurred because you didn't care. Global Warming happens because you are selfish and lazy. Everything bad in the world either happened or will happen because you weren't paying attention to the things that I care about. Blaming the perceived apathetic for these things is considerably easier than finding and debating someone who actually disagrees, after all. And it also neatly absolves the one apportioning the blame of any blame themselves. Perhaps this is a simplistic view of the world, but I fail to see how else I am to understand the mentality of a man who accuses me of contributing to global warming with my car when he commutes weekly to and from another city by private jet.

Call me a raving utopian if you will, or tell me that I have my head stuck in the sand. I get this all the time, and by and large I say nothing about it, save for the occasional bitter outburst when I cannot take being someone's surrogate republican or climate change denier or militarist or fat, lazy American for a second longer. Whatever its faults, and they are many, Tomorrowland was the first movie I've seen... possibly ever... that posited things I have trained myself assiduously never to bring up in any company, due to the uniformly negative reaction I tend to get. I consequently do not know that I am capable of evaluating it in a sense that would make sense to anyone else. It was a movie that, despite being quite sloppily made, left me sitting in my car at the conclusion of its run-time, staring off into space, lost in my own thoughts for a full half-hour. It was a movie that, in whatever amateurish way it was capable of, dared to speak up for a movement whose death we have been celebrating since I have been alive, one that I always, at least a little bit, considered myself an heir to. It was a movie that led me to write the review above.

Tomorrowland was a movie that made me think things I had been conditioned to no longer dare to. I don't know if you will hate or love it, and I don't know if you will be right or wrong to do so. But I do know that I will not forget it any time soon.

Final Score:  6.5/10

Next Time:  Having completed this weird review, let us now return to more normal fare by seeing a transhumanist sci-fi piece about the nature of consciousness.

... wait...

The General's Post Summer 2018 Roundup

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