Friday, June 12, 2015

Project 365: Movies 130 - 134

130 / 365: Tomorrowland (2015)
© Disney

Brad Bird knows how to tell children's stories that, in actuality, are for adults. He did it with The Iron Giant, he did it with The Incredibles, and now, in glossy live action, he does it with a chunk of the Disneyland theme park (complete with a portal through "It's a Small World"). The stakes are juicier, the emotions are more complex, and the themes are high concept, but kids will never notice those things. They'll just gape and ooo and ahhh at stacked floating pools and jet packs while you tear up when you realize you haven't squandered your potential—there's still time for you to change the world.

The Earth's brightest minds for over a century have come together to share ideas for bettering it. Those ideas led to the creation (or discovery?) of Tomorrowland, an other-worldly place of peace, invention, and creativity. Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson), a child scientist and inventor, finds his way to this place, led there during the 1964 World's Fair by a young girl, Athena (Raffey Cassidy), before being expelled years later for one of his final inventions. Decades pass, until an equally determined and curious mind, Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) stumbles across an old pin that, when touched, transports her to a world of endless possibilities. When she can't find a way to stay there, she tracks down a now much older Frank (George Clooney) to take her back.

Clooney finally gets to play the crotchety old man from the movie Up, which is all well and good, but it's the young ladies of the film that steal the show. Robertson is becoming the female Zac Efron, specifically when it comes to acting style. That may sound like a nebulous, maybe insulting comparison, but it's not. Despite his youthful glow, Efron is an expert at conveying pain and heartbreak with just his eyes, Robertson is equally adept at conveying curiosity and wonder with hers. She slips into this role effortlessly. Raffey Cassidy has played a young Eva Green and young Kristen Stewart, but this time, she gets to be her own character with Athena. A timeless, ageless, scene-stealing one, in fact. She also has the best line at the end of the movie, which made me laugh then immediately cry. Touché, Brad Bird. Nice to see you haven't lost your form.

While I couldn't ignore the idealized and futuristic world looking like the 1950's vision of that same ideal future, the nostalgia and optimism of that time is off the charts. It's why the movie works, pushing you to feel the same hopeful resolution that Casey does in the all-too-brief moment she teleports through the pin. I might have preferred the alternate universe itself be called something other than "Tomorrowland"... which is more of an idea than an actual location, but don't forget who produced this thing. At times, the scope gets a little too big, too impersonal, with some critical finger-wagging at the human race, but Bird reels it back enough by keeping his characters at the forefront. In the end, this movie made me feel productive and amazing with a life full of promise and possibilities, like an injection of positivity. I went home and did eight loads of laundry in record speed, just riding that high.

Rating: ★★★★ / 5 stars
Watched: Theater
Seen Before: No

131 / 365: Dirty Girl (2010)
© The Weinstein Company

The year is 1987, and high schooler Danielle (Juno Temple) has earned the reputation as a 'dirty girl.' She "discriminates, designates, dumps" her conquests, unapologetically doing what she wants, mirroring the behavior of her once promiscuous/now wannabe Mormon mother, Sue-Ann (Milla Jovovich). When the principal puts Dani in Special Ed, she finds an unlikely friend in Clarke (Jeremy Dozier), a closet-case forced into therapy by his homophobic father. Paired together for a school project (taking care of a "baby" i.e. a sack of flower they name Joan), Dani discovers the identity of the father she never knew. With Joan in hand, Clarke and Danni go on an epic road trip, fleeing the harsh realities of their lives to find her Dad, and in the process they learn to embrace who they really are.

On the surface, this movie is an occasionally offensive, frequently homophobic representation of the time, incorporating these elements to gain a laugh here or there and creating obstacles for our heroes to overcome. It's crude and a bit fantastical (notice Joan's Sharpie drawn-on face changing from shot to shot), but at its core, it is an emotional journey about acceptance, love, and forgiveness. Temple and Dozier are magnetic together, their friendship built on necessity and circumstance, but it develops into a strong and healing bond. For the first time in their lives, they're faced with honesty from a positive, supportive source. Despite all of the touchy-feely messages, it's also riotously fun! A road trip movie full of memorable music, quotes, and good vibes. Trust me, you'll be just as surprised by it as I was. I pop this movie in whenever I'm feeling down, and it always lifts me right back up.

Rating: ★★★ / 5 stars
Watched: DVD
Seen Before: Yes

132 / 365: Nashville (1975)
© Paramount Pictures

This movie was the #59 film on my AFI Top 100 countdown challenge. Read my full review here.

Rating: ★½ / 5 stars
Watched: Blu Ray
Seen Before: No

133 / 365: Good Kill (2015)
© IFC Films

I thought about doing a standard introduction for this movie, but there's a more pressing thought that couldn't be ignored: January Jones is, without a doubt, the worst actress working professionally today, and here, as the unsatisfied wife of non-flying, remote drone pilot Ethan Hawke, she struggles desperately to impersonate a living breathing human being. To paraphrase David Schmader's Showgirls commentary, Jones is like a robot programmed with only crude execution protocols... Comfort Husband. *pat-his-back* Look Worried. *stare-out-window* Be Annoyed. *pour-glass-of-wine* How she continues to get work is beyond me. She is an unnecessary distraction in an otherwise taut, appropriately focused film. Moving on.

Hawke brings his edge-of-tears lip curl, half smirk / half grimace out in full force as Major Thomas Egan, an Air Force pilot who completed three tours in Afghanistan before being stationed near his home in Las Vegas. Rather than taking to the air, he spends 12 hours a day in a windowless shipping container, plugging in and taking virtual flight via drone, blasting away terrorists from a world away. Joined by a rotating team, including Airman Vera Suarez (Zoë Kravitz), they must follow orders, however unlawful or cowardly they appear to be.

Egan and Suarez share the best scenes, as she looks to his expertise to gauge how to navigate this political gray area. The film, however, has quite a bit to say about the "unmaned aerial" activity—not just regarding the missions, but what it can do to the mind of a career pilot. At the end, you see a lot less gray, and more black & white. But Hawke delivers a wonderfully understated and tortured performance, while Kravitz is the perfect catalyst for his defeated demeanor. There are times when the characters' boredom spreads out to those of us watching, which is a testament to director Andrew Niccol's story-telling ability, but we're still left feeling exactly that: bored. Some emotional punches hit hard, though, and the end scenes are wildly cathartic. A brave political movie worth a watch, but don't expect a lot of the bells & whistles of cinematic war.

Rating: ★★★ / 5 stars
Watched: Theater
Seen Before: No

134 / 365: Walkabout (1971)
© Criterion Collection

Two children, a teenage girl (Jenny Agutter) and her younger brother (Luc Roeg), are abandoned in the Outback by their father after he takes them out for a supposed picnic. After attempting to shoot his children without warning, he sets the car ablaze and turns the gun on himself. It's not known why, though it's suggested that they were annoying him while he attempted to read the paper, so he couldn't go on living anymore and wanted to make sure his kids were stranded as a result. Regardless, now on their own, they're forced to make do on the rugged terrain--an impossible task, until they meet a young Aborigine on a walkabout, a right of passage about survival for of-age boys.

At the start of the film, a didgeridoo rings out over the banal activities of urban life before juxtaposing it with the harshness of the Outback. Director Nicolas Roeg incorporates plenty of double-exposure shots, reminiscent of Picnic at Hanging Rock and other Australian films from that decade. The heat of the on-location shoot is visible, rippling around the screen like water. There is a noticeable lack of sentimentality and this is most evident in the splendid macro photography shots of the wildlife, alive and dead, frightening and beautiful. Roeg is masterful in his consistency, and he creates contrasts that are at once fascinating and upsetting. Emotions might be human nature, but they won't keep you alive.

As our trio traverse the varied landscape, communication, or the lack thereof, becomes the central theme. The Girl maintains her city demeanor, a bit banal and superior, despite her clear reliance on the boys. Rarely does she drop that rigid persona, even when the Aborigine tries to share his own customs. It is all in vein. He is a means to an end for her, and she doesn't even realize it. The tragedy is that even if she did, she wouldn't care. Beneath it all, each of these characters are who they are. The realities of desertion by a loved one, even the possibility of death, may not have the life-changing effect you'd think it would. While Walkabout is jarring both in story and execution, it's an undeniably profound and unique experience.

Final thought: was it just me, or did anyone else notice the first five notes of "Take My Breath Away" featured prominently in the score? I think Berlin owes Walkabout's composer, J. J. Barry, a cut of that Oscar gold.

Rating: ★★★½ / 5 stars
Watched: Hulu Plus
Seen Before: No

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