There’s a scene toward the end of Tomorrowland, the latest blockbuster Disney adventure directed by Brad Bird, where we are presented with a long monologue about how humans have made no effort to avoid the apocalypse—in fact, we have embraced it, particularly in our media and entertainment. Not 24 hours after I sat through this sermon, I decided to take in San Andreas, the smash Dwayne Johnson vehicle that depicts the obliteration of California by earthquake. It was difficult not to constantly think back to the Disney film’s words about how we view the apocalypse while sitting through all the CGI mayhem, and it seems the more movies I watch the less patience I generally have for the use of mass disaster as a means of entertainment. Millions may die and cities may be leveled, but who cares as long as Johnson gets back to his family?
And yet, I’d be lying if I said I had more fun watching Tomorrowland than San Andreas, and that is something I’ve been wrestling with in the couple days since I’ve seen them. The latter, while formulaic and generally gross about how it treats human life, at least seems more interested in dancing for its dinner. Part of that is the charisma of Johnson, who continues to impress in these types of roles. Another factor is the use of CGI, which, while rampant, is actually quite impressive in the way it depicts these disasters hitting Los Angeles and San Francisco. It has actual weight, which is more than you can say for most of these movies. As far as these things go, it’s reasonably well done. The problem is, it’s not something I have a particularly strong interest in anymore. It follows the typical Roland Emmerich formula to a tee, and there’s never any doubt from the start who is going to live and who is going to die. As a piece of storytelling, it’s horrible. As a summer special effects extravaganza, it proficiently hits its marks.
Tomorrowland, meanwhile, should be a much more admirable movie than it is. In theory, it sounds great, but it proves itself to be similarly empty in the storytelling department. Written by Bird and Damon Lindelof, this is a film that spends most of its time slowly revealing information about the basic premise to the audience, withholding much of it until we are well past the first hour of the movie. It is, essentially, a trail of breadcrumbs that leads to the aforementioned monologue, and if that’s how you’re going to end your $200 million blockbuster, the ride there better have been worth it. Unfortunately, it’s not. Everything in Tomorrowland is just a little bit too vague.
This extends to the characters as well, all of whom can be explained away in a sentence or two. Casey (Britt Robertson, 25, but playing 16-ish) is a relentlessly optimistic dreamer. Frank Walker (George Clooney) used to be, but now is generally beaten down by his lot in life. Athena (Raffey Cassidy) is a British robot tween trying to save the alternate dimension world of Tomorrowland. Admittedly, that last one sounds complicated, but that’s really all there is to it. For over two hours, Tomorrowland feels as though it’s kicking the can down the road, and once it arrives at its destination there is nothing particularly revelatory to be found. It’s a bummer considering the talent involved—this is the first Bird film that I haven’t loved, let alone liked—but it feels like a great idea in search of a worthy story to deliver it.
Another thoroughly well-meaning film arrived in theaters this past weekend, and it came with a giant “Kick Me” sign hanging on its back. I am talking about Cameron Crowe’s Aloha, which was labeled a fiasco all the way back in the midst of the Sony email hacks. The version that was released—who knows what has been changed since Crowe’s original cut, since it feels chopped to pieces—is indeed an absolute mess; a three- or four-movie pileup that changes tones and plots from moment to moment. If you squint really hard, you can see the ghost of what Crowe was trying to accomplish—a romantic comedy about the military industrial complex and the United States’ role in Hawaii—but this is a 105-minute debacle made all the worse because of how compromised it feels.
This movie covers a lot of ground in its running time, and not well. Essentially, Bradley Cooper plays Brian Gilchrest, a military contractor who is sent to Hawaii to oversee the blessing of a bridge and also the launch of a satellite by billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray). He is followed around by Air Force Captain Allison Ng, who proudly trumpets her partially Hawaiin heritage. She is played by Emma Stone, a white person. Anyway, Brian also has to deal with his ex-girlfriend Tracy (Rachel McAdams), her husband Woody (John Krasinski), and the fact that he might be the father of one of Tracy’s children. Alec Baldwin also stops by to scream for a little bit.
If that all sounds like a lot of conflict, that’s because it should be! Really, though, everyone seems pretty chill about everything most of the time. That style actually serves Crowe well when the film is in pure hang-out mode, at which point we’re able to sit back and watch a bunch of charming actors be charming. Whenever any type of story kicks in, though… woo, boy. Entire plots and characters are dropped and picked up multiple times. There are references to a more supernatural element that never quite materializes. Scenes feel awkwardly stitched together thanks to rough editing and blatant ADR. All in all, Aloha is a film that barely holds together from second to second, let alone for 100-plus minutes. It’s hardly an abomination, but rather like something that reached the end of the assembly line with various parts missing.
Also this week…
I’ll be honest: this season was the first time I started to feel myself grow apart from Game of Thrones. It’s always been a show that spends a couple episodes at a time treading water, but the middle section of this year became particularly unpleasant. The much-discussed rape of Sansa by her new husband Ramsay was unquestionably the nadir, and in that moment the show also revealed its sometimes ugly tendencies: when all else fails, it tends to do something horrible to one of the characters. It’s a fairly nihilistic universe, all things considered. For every cathartic moment—the death of Joffrey for instance—there are three or four Red Weddings. In the Thrones-verse, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Screw you for trying, really.
By the time I sat down to start this past weekend’s episode, I was getting ready to bail. Of course, I then proceeded to have my pants blown off by one of the best episodes in the show’s history. “Hardhome” was an electrifying reminder of why we watch this show in the first place, and the massive battle sequence—which takes up most of the episode’s latter half—was not only breathtakingly staged, but also the moment when the show’s big picture snapped into place. For much of its fifth season, Game of Thrones felt like a show losing its sense of purpose. By the time “Hardhome” ended, and we were faced with the already legendary shot of the Night’s King casting Jon Snow the most intimidating stare known to man, it was clear that the show had got its sense of purpose back. And then some.
Other cultural observations:
- I realize I haven’t written in a few weeks, and in that time the best movie of the year came out and I haven’t addressed it outside of several tweets. So here goes: Mad Max: Fury Road is incredible and exhilarating and insane and perfect in every way. SO SEE IT. It has this guy in it, what more could you possibly want?
- That dumb Point Break trailer started to make the rounds on the Internet last week, and after watching the original for the first time, I can indeed agree that the existence of this remake is unnecessary at best. If you want to make a Fast & Furious ripoff about a bunch of thrill-seeking thieves and the FBI agent trying to stop them, go for it. Why you have to slap the title Point Break on it and stick with naming the protagonist “Johnny Utah,” I have no idea.
- Same goes for the recent news that Dwayne Johnson might be starring in a remake of Big Trouble in Little China. On its face, I adore the idea of Johnson in a Big Trouble-type movie, but why the title and premise must be carried over into the new version I have no idea.
- Besides Game of Thrones, the rest of HBO’s original programming lineup is on an insane roll right now. Veep and Silicon Valley are hilarious on a consistent basis, making full use of their ridiculously stacked ensembles. And let’s not forget Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, which seems to make headlines on a weekly basis.
Unnecessary sports thought of the week:
- Go Cavs. After San Andreas, you will be the second worst thing to happen to California this week.