Friday, May 29, 2015

Tomorrowland and San Andreas

       “Good night and have a pleasant tomorrow” 
             (as best I remember it, the sign-off-phrase from Tom Snyder from The Tomorrow 
             Show [NBC, 1973-1982, running just after Tonight and several hours before Today])
                               Reviews and Other Commentary by Ken Burke
 Sorry to be so late in posting this week but somehow my “lovely” computer erased everything I had typed (including the backup file) during my usual Wednesday-all-day-and-late-night-assault on my sanity so I had to start all over on days when I didn’t have much time available to work.  If one of those geniuses in Tomorrowland could devise a more fool-proof-computer than this unpredictable and frequently-freezing-thing that I’m working with then maybe I wouldn’t feel so frustrated so damn often, but I guess that's just how computers function.  I’ve tried to at least be competent in this 2nd version but with the nagging feeling that the first one was better. However, one change in the critical landscape better justifies that I don’t review any more options than I do on a weekly basis, as the hallowed New York Times has decided that it will no longer guarantee coverage of every film that opens in their city (because a good number of distributors were sponsoring brief runs in order to get product publicity prior to a primarily-intended-video-release), so I’m glad to see that they’ve finally taken my attitude toward the methods of necessary education of the masses and cut back on their coverage.  Now that they’re more in sync with me, let’s see what I’ve had time to get to and finally write about (twice) during this past week.
Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews.  Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up.  Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.
                                                Tomorrowland (Brad Bird)
A teenager stumbles onto a magical place in another dimension where top minds are working on making the greatest society possible but suddenly she’s back on Earth being hunted so she tracks down an older guy who presumably has answers as to what’s going on but he doesn’t want to be involved—then the trackers show up leaving him with no other choice.
What Happens: This story begins in our present day as we seem to be getting direct-address-information from upper-middle-aged Frank Walker (George Clooney) and teenaged Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), but we learn much later that this is an orientation to a new generation of Audio-Animatronics (that’s robots to us, although you’ve seen Mr. Lincoln and others like him at Disney theme parks; the ones in Tomorrowland, though, are much more sophisticated in active movement and passible artificial intelligence—whether they’re at the A.I. level of Ava in Ex Machina [Alex Garland; review in our April 30, 2015 posting] is a matter for a different, and intriguing, discussion) in another dimension who are being primed to search Earth, recruiting another new generation, but now of the best and brightest humans to help bring optimism and wonder back to our beleaguered planet.  All of this understanding comes at the very end of Tomorrowland, though, as most of this movie is told in flashbacks narrated by Frank or Casey.  In Frank’s case, we jump back to the 1964 New York World’s Fair (NYC borough of Queens; almost a decade later I lived close to where that all took place), with promises of “a great big beautiful tomorrow just a dream away,” even as young Frank is upset that his not-fully-functioning jetpack isn’t accepted as an inspirational invention by David Nix (Hugh Laurie); however, he does catch the eye of a girl about his age, Athena (Raffey Cassidy)—although we later learn that she’s also a robot—who gives him a small pin with the letter T; as he tries to follow her on a boat into the initial incarnation of the famous "It's a Small World" ride (this mind-infecting[numbing?]-song and video presented especially for my wonderful wife, Nina, who’s yet to understand my ongoing obsession with this colorful excursion) a laser scans his pin after which he’s transported to Tomorrowland where a robot fixes the problems with his jetpack, allowing him to fly gracefully through this futuristic city, then meet up again with Nix and Athena.  

 As we eventually put the whole plot together we find that Frank stayed in this world of wonder where he invented a machine that harnessed tachyons, enabling anyone to see into the past or future; however, the tragic end he saw for planet Earth so depressed him that he was banished in 1984 from this other dimension (as was Athena later on because she continued to try to recruit geniuses like Frank to fix the sorrow overtaking once-cheerfully-optimistic-Tomorrowland).  Back in our present day, Athena left another one of the T pins with Casey’s belongings when she made bail after being arrested for trespassing at the Cape Canaveral, FL launch site where her NASA engineer father, Eddie (Tim McGraw), is soon to be unemployed due to cutbacks in the program so Casey was attempting to sabotage the dismantling of the site.  When she touches the strange pin she finds herself in Tomorrowland but is yanked back to Earth when the pin’s power runs out.

 Precocious Casey (a budding genius herself, even smarter than Frank on the Tomorrowland rating scale) slips off to Houston after finding a sci-fi/fantasy store website with mention of her strange pin but when she tries to find out more about it the Blast from the Past shop owners, Hugo and Ursula (Keegan-Michael Key, Kathryn Hahn), also robots, try to kill her, with a last-minute (yet ultra-destructive) save coming from Athena who then whisks Casey off to Frank’s upstate NY secluded/fortified home where he wants nothing to do with the questions that Casey’s barraging him with; she does gain access to the house, though, just before more robots arrive on the attack.  Frank manages to provide another loudly-explosive -scape, followed by a trip with Casey and Athena (still as a child, of course, as robots don’t age the way we do) to Paris’ Eiffel Tower where he tells them how Gustave Eiffel, Jules Verne, Nikola Tesla (Is Elon Musk an investor in this movie?  Full disclosure, my niece, Amanda Kindblad, works for his innovative car company but I doubt that this plug will get either of us a discount), and Thomas Edison long ago gained access to the alternative dimension where they set up Tomorrowland as a site for creative discovery in an attempt to provide a better future for Earth’s population (all of which ties into the Disney philosophy of Imagineering, celebrated at all of their theme parks where joyous escape from mundanity is the intent but especially at Epcot which more directly lauds the wonders of creative technology—I don't expect this plug to yield any rewards either).  These pioneers also left a machine-age-looking rocket (with echoes of the ride that now graces the entrance to Disneyland’s Tomorrowland where Verne’s fascination with the future is celebrated in an attempt to not have to keep designing attractions that speak of yet-undiscovered-wonders, allowing the galaxy-long-ago-concept of Star Tours, the small-scale-freeways of Autopia, and the complete fantasy of the Little Mermaid submarines to no longer have to justify themselves in an area where the only real future-oriented-rides are the Monorail and Space Mountain) that Frank uses to transport himself, Casey, and Athena into this movie’s Tomorrowland dimension, where Governor Nix still presides over a depressing, dilapidated location awaiting the countdown of less than 2 months until Earth’s total destruction from wars, dwindling resources, and disastrous climate change, the source of Frank’s frequent anger and pessimism.  
 Yet, Casey’s still hopeful for an alternate scenario, even though Nix wants none of it (long ago he used Frank’s machine to send images of such disasters to Earth in an attempt to “scare straight” the populace, but instead of inspiring furious attempts at change all he got was an embracing of such chaos, as indicated by public interest in dystopian Futuristic Sci-Fi [such as Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller; review in our May 20, 2015 posting)] and Disaster [such as San Andreas, reviewed below] movies, so he’s now oddly-hell-bent on bringing about final destruction of our planet by using Frank’s Monitor machine to send a barrage of his encouragements for such doomsday actions to Earth to finish the job of predestined catastrophe).  However, more optimistic attitudes save the day as our 3 heroes battle Nix with Athena being mortally wounded (I guess that “damaged” would be more appropriate relative to her existence, although she tells Frank how she did have amorous feelings for him which both of them assumed couldn’t be returned anyway—nor, as previously noted could she age her mechanical body to match his years of physical maturity) in the process so she urges Frank to use her self-destruct-mechanisms to destroy the “negativity machine” (Nix, the cad, dies in the process), allowing us to get back to where we started with Frank and Casey sending out a new cadre of robots to recruit humans whose hopeful attitudes and mental abilities will generate such enthusiasm for a better future that one will actually come about.

So What? Rarely have I come across a movie where I agree so wholeheartedly with the ideology that it’s espousing yet I have such a disappointed attitude toward how the whole thing manifests itself.  This saddens me because I know there are plenty of U.S. politicians and their faithful followers who already will reject the planet-saving-issues being espoused by Tomorrowland as being too ideally optimistic about rejecting war (even as voices grow louder for a return of American “boots on the ground” in the Middle East to destroy the homicidal forces of IS/ISIS/ISIL [pick your abbreviation]), acknowledging human responsibility in drastic climate change (even as floods ravage my former home state of Texas just as drought keeps choking the life out of my new home of California), and overcoming greed (even as income disparity is priming the American populace for another revolution, further justifying the increased billions that many of our leaders want to spend on defense against everyone, from a flood of desperate immigrants trying to become citizens to supposed-social-regimentation from our own government [on this topic, the robots sent to terminate Frank and Casey are disguised as Secret Service agents]); there’s already enough 2016 campaign rhetoric flying around about securing borders, protecting American exceptionalism, and cutting back on environmental laws in the name of expanding business profits to not have counter-messages such as the ones that Tomorrowland wants to promote be rejected simply because the movie itself becomes too strident in its preachy tone, leaving the (misinterpreted) image of socialist-society-managers on the march, imposing activist-mandated-policies on a wary population.  I figure that if someone such as me (who strongly supports what this movie wants to encourage) finds that the message delivery comes across as too jumbled and fervent then there probably won’t be much hope that its uplifting-intentions will be internalized and celebrated enough to make the necessary differences that would keep Governor Nix’s vision from becoming our only reality rather than just a possible one.  (I have to admit that when I see those final images in Tomorrowland of the young, enthusiastic robots setting out to recruit new converts to the rosy future envisioned by Frank and Casey—I’m not sure whatever happened to her Dad—I can’t help but think of the hilarious reference to such eager missionaries in Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone’s hugely-successful [nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical] satire on religion, The Book of Mormon [2011].)

 Further, for a statement about the superiority of challenging ideas and hopeful intentions, a tremendous amount of screen time is spent on the destruction-derbies of robot attacks on Casey and Frank, crazy inventions that seem to come more from Fantasyland than Tomorrowland (Frank and Casey escaping his besieged house in what is essentially a flying bathtub; the Eiffel Tower rocket which jumps into that other dimension simply by turning around to speed toward Earth [And, for that matter, how did the originators of this future-focused-society ever get there or bring anyone else? Certainly not in this one-time-use-rocket; later Nix opens a portal between the dimensions but that results from the very-high-tech-options which certainly weren’t available to Verne and company, so the whole dimensional-travel-concept gets murky, as do the problems Casey has with being transported to Tomorrowland yet constantly being hampered by walls, stairways, water, etc. in our dimension that prevent her from moving freely in this new world she’s encountered—until those problems simply no longer exist for most of our movie, unless I’m just missing something.], Athena’s ability to be just about anywhere she needs to be no matter the distance to be traveled, even though she doesn’t have anything except borrowed human transportation to get her from one place to another, etc.)  I know I’m raising a lot of physics-based-cranky-complaints against a completely fictional story intended to inspire rather than explain, but when the “What?” questions begin to outnumber the “Wow!” aspects (mostly associated with the early wondrous views of Tomorrowland in Frank’s flashback—revisited by Casey, but according to Frank what she experienced was just an old hologram used as a recruiting tool for the humans brought over by Athena and her ilk, although how Casey stumbled into it isn’t clear either) you just end up with great intentions gone awry.  I was truly moved about halfway into Tomorrowland that this movie wasn’t going to just be a standard action-combat-exercise which seems to be so much of a marketing necessity for futuristically-oriented-sci-fi-stories (even in the essentially-optimistic Star Treks), but its message of people working together for advanced progress in human development got bogged down again by the Nix vs. “the saviors” physical conflicts that never seemed fully clear about Nix’s absolute determination to hasten the demise of his home planet.

Bottom Line Final Comments: Basically, I just wish that I could better embrace Tomorrowland more joyfully than I’m able to do at present.  It works well in establishing intrigue as to what this mysterious place is that Frank was able to be easily transported to as a boy yet Casey can’t seem to fully bridge the overlapping of the other dimension and our own as she keeps bumping into things in her Florida house while trying to navigate within Tomorrowland, a place that quickly becomes strange because of Athena’s initially-mysterious-presence and dangerous because of all the murderous robots so intent on stopping Casey’s explorations even when she doesn’t understand much at all about what happens when she touches that mysterious T pin.  There are also very nice touches early on with the Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977), The Day the Earth Stood Still (Robert Wise, 1951), etc. paraphernalia in the Blast from the Past shop, just as there are exquisite images within Tomorrowland, including the floating swimming pools that hold water but still allow a swimmer to glide through the bottom plane of each one to drop down into the next one below.  Yet, clever enhancements do not a successful film make (to use Yoda-speech) when there’s so much going on in the primary plot that deserves better explanation and audience investment, just as the script needs to be dialed back a bit from its positive-propaganda-attitudes which play well in theory with “democratic socialists” such as myself but feel too imposing even to me in a vehicle intended to lure hell-bent-for-immediate-success Earthlings back from the brink of nihilistic annihilation while coming across as a recruitment film for Disney employees.

 For my Musical Metaphor to cap off my comments on Tomorrowland I’ve decided to go with The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” (the last cut on their 1966 Revolver album, even though it was the first piece recorded for it), which I’ll illustrate with 3 different videos that all use the song as their soundtrack.  The 1st, at is a long-lost 1967 project from the Fab Four themselves, originally intended for a movie to be made up of visual accompaniments to songs from their Rubber Soul (1965), Revolver, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) albums; in this “Tomorrow Never Knows” video we simply have relatively-random-home-movie-type-clips of John, Paul, and George, with these images in contrast to the metaphysically-probing-lyrics which seemed to have been inspired by John’s interest in The Tibetan Book of the Dead or at least interpretations of it in Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, and Ralph Metzner’s book, The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead.  The 2nd version of the song takes us back once again to ruminations on the fabulous-but-now-departed AMC TV series, Mad Men (see my Short Takes comments in our May 20, 2015 posting concerning the interpretation-inducing-use of the famous “I’d Like To Buy The World a Coke” ad as the final narrative element of that show—for me the best TV finale since Newhart [CBS, 1982-1990] when the main character wakes up back in his previous setting of The Bob Newhart Show [1972-1978] to find that the entire new production was simply a dream), at, the end of season 5’s episode 8 (“Lady Lazarus,” 2012) where Don Draper feels that he needs to better understand contemporary youth culture so 2nd-wife-Megan gives him a copy of Revolver, telling him to start with this cut; the fact that he lifts the stylus from the turntable before the song’s even finished shows me that, despite his ad-sense-savvy, he wasn’t ready to make that connection in 1966, although maybe he did in 1971 after his soul-journey that concluded the entirety of Mad Men.  
 Finally, if you’d just prefer to hear this Beatles’ song illustrated with the sort of psychedelic-imagery common to the mid-1960s you might like this version at  In Tomorrowland, we “never know” as well whether the re-inspired quest of Frank and Casey will actually bring about a Renaissance of hope, discovery, and global progress for our planet, but we can certainly embrace the optimism of the script’s intensions if we can tame our (including mine, I admit) pessimistic responses to this nobly-confusing-attempt at renewing the fuel cells of our collective imagination.  John Lennon (author of the song, despite the standard Lennon-McCartney attribution) might prefer to continue with the premise of “Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void” rather the Disney-Imagineers-inspired-interpretation of new scientific discoveries being how they “listen to the color of [their] dreams,” but maybe he and I can meet to “hash” (so to speak) that out some distant day when I can “Turn off [my] mind, relax and float downstream” to whatever version of Tomorrowland (if any) awaits us beyond this physical plane as we truly “see the meaning of within.”
(Somewhat) Short(er) Takes
Even more so than usual I encourage you to take my Spoiler Alerts seriously because this next movie’s just opening nationwide even as I’m posting these comments so you may want to see it for yourself before reading any further—although the plot's quite obvious anyway.
                                              San Andreas (Brad Peyton)
Hoover Dam collapses, LA is shaken horribly, but when San Francisco opens its Golden Gate it’s hit with 2 huge earthquakes and the massive flood of a tsunami, making it difficult for rescue-expert Ray (Dwayne Johnson) to keep up with all of the deadly dangers plaguing his ex-wife and college-bound-daughter; not much depth here but lots of good action.
 Thanks to the generosity of my good friend and fellow film critic, Barry Caine (who, I’ll keep reminding you, inspired this whole Two Guys concept by encouraging Pat Craig and me to get our thoughts on movies out to the public, although we're still working on Pat), I was able to attend a press screening last Tuesday night of the new Disaster epic, San Andreas.  Afterward, Barry and I had a short discussion (until his BART train arrived, a circumstance that wouldn’t happen in this movie after the total devastation of San Francisco—see, I told you to heed my Spoiler Alert warnings) about how to determine ratings for movies, with his position that he enjoyed San Andreas quite a bit but only as a summer-reality-escape-extravaganza so if he were giving out quality numbers on some scale system this one would rate quite highly for him within that specified framework, whereas I decided long ago that for purposes of this blog I’d admit my enjoyment as it occurred but would still hold everything accountable to a somewhat universal standard which I know will penalize the San Andreas-es of the cinematic world which have no intention of pursuing the kind of Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941) or The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola,1972) level of artistic depth that I miserly reserve for my 5 and 4½ stars (you can refresh yourself on my previous choices if you’d like to see that system in action, where I admit that I’d probably pass on seeing most of my 3½-star-or-lower-choices again and might not even want to revisit all of the 4’s—normally as high as I’m willing to go unless something hits me as possessing truly classic resonance, or at least the promise of it—simply because I’d rather keep searching for something new and potentially impactful rather than tilling adequate-but-unspectacular-ground again).  

 I agree with Barry that as long as you’re willing to qualify your ratings with understandings such as 5 stars within the realm of escapist-action-movies or entertaining-children’s-fare-well-produced-enough to keep your kids engaged in return for the price of the ticket, then you’re working within a self-acknowledged apples, oranges, bananas, and pineapples approach (with divergences into the worlds of spinach and carrots if you veer away from dramatic narrative vehicles into alternate filmic approaches such as documentary), but if you insist on holding everything to the same quality-consideration-requirements like I do (probably as the result of my anal-retentive-academic-training-and-background) then San Andreas is going to suffer compared to not only a masterpiece such as Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974) but also to a thought-provoking-contemporary example with its own tensions and actions such as Ex Machina (Alex Garland; review in our April 30, 2015 posting).

 With all of that in mind, though, I do offer a reasonably-high-rating for San Andreas because of the superb quality of its destructive special effects (where even the “simple” opening scene of a young woman being rescued from a car perilously hanging from the side of a cliff could be the main focus of a less-spectacular-story) and its imaginative use of ongoing complications within a limited range of circumstances (earthquakes create huge crises for those involved but in a movie you’re largely limited to buildings and landscapes collapsing with the resulting fires and flooding from tsunami waves, so you have to keep working at it for the plot to remain intense when it’s all about how your protagonists keep having to leap or swim from one danger to the next).  What little you need to know about the plot can be summed up as Los Angeles Fire Department helicopter-rescue-unit-Chief Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson) has an ex-wife, Emma (Carla Gugino)—who’s about to marry a rich, prominent architect, Daniel Riddick (Ioan Gruffudd)—and a teenage daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario), about to begin college in northern California so Daniel takes her to San Francisco where his main office is located, along with his impressive (strong, safe) new skyscraper under construction.  Suddenly all hell breaks loose as a massive earthquake caused by previously-unknown-faults in southern Nevada destroys the Hoover Dam, with a connective unleashing of the doom-waiting-to-happen-San Andreas Fault which pounds LA, then travels upstate to hit SF with a massive 9.0 jolt (Cal Tech scientist Lawrence Hayes [Paul Giamatti] has just perfected warning-system-technology but not in time to alert anyone to these disasters, although his fearful TV interview does give SF some aid in evacuating before the next one hits).  This leads to Ray rescuing Emma from an LA building in peril (great thrills for us when they dodge falling skyscrapers as they fly away), then they’re off to SF where Blake’s trapped in Daniel’s underground garage as he’s left her to find help but then just stumbles around in what seems to be a shock-induced-daze.  When they arrive they have to parachute into AT&T Park (home of the current World Series champs, the SF Giants, now having a decidedly better 2015 than my beloved-but-stumbling Oakland Athletics who also consumed some of my time this week as I watched live while they took yet another loss on Wednesday afternoon), after which they grab a small motorboat in their frantic search for Blake.  

 She’s managed to get out of the garage with the help of 2 English brothers, Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt)—who’s smitten with her—and Ollie (Art Parkinson), with these 3 ending up in Riddick’s in-progress-building but even it’s under fire (water, actually, as the tsunami swallows up everything lower than 10 stories and continues to rise even as the structure begins to sink).  All 5 of these protagonists miraculously connect (What else?), although Blake almost drowns until finally saved by Dad (with his guilty memories of their other daughter who did succumb to water on a boating trip gone bad, the event that drove a wedge between his and Emma’s marriage) with the parents reconnected as well (Daniel suffered a grisly fate as the tsunami destroyed much of the Golden Gate Bridge, but you’d think he’d know to stay away from it after its previous pounding in both Rise of the Planet of the Apes [Rupert Wyatt, 2011] and Godzilla [Gareth Edwards, 2014; review in our May 15, 2014 posting—thanks to Barry for that press screening also]), the tattered remains of an American flag flapping on the bridge, Emma asking “Now what?” as the survivors look down upon their losses from the Marin Headlands, and Ray replying with true-9/11-resilience, “We rebuild.”

 San Andreas is quite impressive in its scenes of destruction (as negative as that may be for our society, as prophesized by Tomorrowland’s Governor Nix) but thin in character depth or explorations of the human spirit, qualities that I prefer even in this type of movie, which can be achieved just as Christopher Nolan showed with superhero action stories in The Dark Knight (2008) and, as my fading memory tells me was a more character-driven-plot despite all of the surface action, in another mainstay of the Disaster genre, The Towering Inferno (John Guillermin, 1974), where once again terror struck SF but the plot devices were confined to one burning building rather than the entire city being pulverized by a 9.6-Richter scale-wallop (with the only one of such magnitude in recorded history being the 9.5 Valdivia quake in Chile on May 22, 1960); of course that earlier example also had a huge starring cast to further maintain interest (no offense to The Rock, whom I’ve always liked both as a WWE wrestler and an action-hero, but even his massive muscles pale in impact when the screen offers among others in one movie Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Richard Chamberlin, Robert Vaughn, Robert Wagner, Jennifer Jones, and—prior to his own disasters, O.J. Simpson), along with a 77% positive response from Rotten Tomatoes, compared to a much-lower 49% so far for San Andreas (despite my mild disagreements with Barry, my 3½-stars-decision is considerably better than that, but, then, I like most movies).  However, if you’d like to explore more about San Andreas I encourage you to look into the official site (as Web-illiterate as I am, I may be among the few who didn’t know you need to click the little box with 3 lines in the upper-left-corner to get details), the trailer, a collection of 8 clips (6:30 total), along with the detailed review tallies from Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic (43% at the time of my posting); further, if you’re really interested in the actual situation with the San Andreas Fault you might enjoy this (somewhat amped-up) 43:34 documentary about what’s likely to happen to my home state whenever this massive mismatch of tectonic plates finally releases its long-anticipated-roaring-rumble.  I'll even offer the Musical Metaphor of (What else?) Bill Haley and his Comets' "Shake, Rattle and Roll" at  

 By the way—regarding San Andreas, The Towering Inferno, and the general topic of trying to make ratings determinations within the arts—in that both of these Disaster movies offer scenes of “death by water” I’ll refer you to a brief statement on that sobering topic from T.S. Eliot’s 1922 magnum opus, The Wasteland, simply because such a literary triumph sets a good paradigm for the depths of human experience and emotional impact that I think 5-star-films should explore, although they certainly don’t have to be as obtuse as this Eliot masterpiece (they probably will be, though, if directed by such auteurs as Michelangelo Antonioni, Ingmar Bergman, or Alain Resnais).

 Finally, regarding a marvelous mutual friend of Barry’s and mine, my Two Guys in the Dark silent partner, Pat Craig (on the right in this photo), we just had a recent visit from Pat who’s now moved to Whidbey Island, WA, where he’s now doing a weekly radio show on WhidbeyAir’s public access Internet site at To further his interests and long involvement with live theatre, Pat’s playing show tunes every Thursday from 6-8pm so I encourage you to give him a listen sometime, which you can do easily from their website.  I’ll enhance (depending on your tastes) that encouragement with a final Musical Metaphor this week of Ethel Merman blasting out "There's No Business Like Show Business", just to let Pat know he’s still remembered as an intended founding partner of this Two Guys enterprise, with hopes that someday we may actually see some movie reviews from him (if that ever happens I’ll give you a link to Merman singing “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” but not now as I have to give you some reason to keep coming back to this blog week after week and I’m sure you couldn’t find it on your own—or could you?).
However, Two Guys are going totally dark for a bit (somewhat in response to the snafu [Know what that word really means? I encourage you to look it up.] described at the very top of this posting but also somewhat in response to my just-discovered-reality that in addition to the web-browser-mismatches I deal with that prevent any of you not viewing in Safari from seeing my intended graphic layout of these posts [note the comments at our homepage, noted just below] I've just realized that what I spend a lot of time trying to arrange visually in Safari doesn't even come out the same way on various Mac computers if they're not using the same OS [which must be Yosemite to be current, so I'll repeat the all-encompassing-computer-technology-condemation I offered long ago, also in our homepage information] thereby giving me reason to borrow a title from Brian Wilson's Pet Sounds [review of Love and Mercy intended for our next posting] and just "go away for awhile," sparing anyone reading this blog from any more Luddite rants from grumpy old me, at least for the next week), returning with new reviews about June 10, 2015. 
We hope you enjoy some fine films during our brief interim away.
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Here’s some more information about Tomorrowland: (once again, but not any more after this I promise, for those like me not up on likely standard Web layout shortcuts, click the little square with 3 lines in the upper left corner to get more details on this movie)

Here are a couple of very short clips: first, at (ad from 2015 Super Bowl to show how to pitch a movie in just 30 sec., necessary when you’re paying $4.5 million for that short time slot), then you might be interested in this scene at (Frank Walker as a boy first coming to Tomorrowland, navigating around with his jetpack) 

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By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile.    Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road

                    Just Shoot Me Now Before the Apocalypse Comes
                               Review by Ken Burke
 The same sort of frequent, ongoing, non-cinematic-activities in my life which I noted in my last posting have continued recently so I had time for just 1 new screening this week also.  Based on the more positive reviews in my local San Francisco area (and ultimately the nationwide—plus, of course, Canada, which for box-office-purposes is virtually considered the 51st “state”—domestic-ticket-sales-results) I suppose I should have chosen Pitch Perfect 2 (Elizabeth Banks) but I thought I’d seen enough of that sort of thing by watching 6 seasons of Glee on TV so my curiosity got the best of me and I chose Mad Max: Fury Road, details to follow below.  However, Pitch 2 took in $69.2 million domestic dollars in its opening weekend (its predecessor [directed by Jason Moore, 2012] made only $65 million domestically in its entire run), giving it the 3rd-highest-opening of all time for a female director (topped by Sam Taylor-Johnson's 50 Shades of Grey [review in our February 26, 2015 posting], Catherine Hardwicke’s 2008 Twilight), also the 2nd-biggest opening for a 1st-time director (Robert Stromberg takes the top honor for Maleficent [2014; review in our June 6, 2014 posting]) but best overall opening for a musical.  Its audience, not surprisingly, was 75% female, with total attendees being 62% under age 25.  In contrast, this latest addition to the Mad Max franchise scored $45.4 million domestically with a 70% male audience, its total attendees being 46% under age 35.  However, given that Max was my option, here’s what I thought about it.
                             Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller)
The post-apocalyptic, barren desert world of ex-cop Max Rockatansky continues with the usual combat between a small group of the good vs. the raging forces of evil as battered vehicles race across the sands with dead bodies flying everywhere as this furious-franchise's newcomers, Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, do battle against a vicious warlord.
Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews.  Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up.  Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.

What Happens: As we hear in brief-opening-voice-over-narration from former cop/now desert wanderer Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), the world we know has been lost to thermonuclear wars over oil and water, leaving the planet as a harsh desert where various communities struggle for survival, with the area we’re focused on commanded by the brutal Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a Darth Vader-ish-character whose ego knows no bounds but whose body needs an evil-looking-life-support-system.  However, his reign is absolute (like a future version of Pharaohs and slaves in The Ten Commandments [Cecil B. DeMille, 1956]), doling out small amounts of life-sustaining-water to his impoverished populace, kept under control by his army of pale, shirtless, bald War Boys, one of whom, Nux (Nicholas Hoult), needs blood-infusions from captured donor Max (Joe also forces a group of women to produce milk as sustenance for the elite of his reign).  As the almost-non-stop-main-action gets under way here (after rapid-early-scenes where Max tries but fails to escape), one of Joe’s combat leaders, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron)—near-bald herself, with a mechanical left arm—supposedly is leading a convoy to Gas Town for more of the kingdom-sustaining-fuel, “guzzaline,” but hidden in her tanker are Joe’s nubile Five Wives (Capable [Riley Keough], The Splendid Angharad [Rosie Huntington-Whiteley], Cheedo the Fragile [Courtney Eaton], Toast the Knowing [ZoĆ« Kravitz], The Dag [Abbey Lee]—and you thought the Spice Girls had weird names!), attempting to escape from their lives of enforced breeding to maintain Joe’s power and legacy.  Joe figures out what’s happening so his whole skinhead army in their hotrods, jeeps, and trucks sets off in pursuit, including crazed Nux, anxious to die so as to reach Joe’s promise of Valhalla (a nice snide twist on the supposed “72 virgins” seemingly the goal of many of the suicidal-jihadists who prop up Al-Qaeda, ISIS, etc.), so Nux attaches “blood bag” Max to the front of his car in order to keep the needed liquid flowing while he’s off on a quest to prove himself worthy of Joe’s admiration.  Furiosa eludes the first army-onslaught by driving straight into a ferocious sandstorm (complete with lightening and tornadoes), where only Nux is crazed enough to follow; in the process, Max manages to escape, get loose of his chains and metal face mask thanks to Furiosa and the Wives, leaves Nux for dead (but he’s not, eventually reconnecting with Joe’s troops), then sets out with them on an escape run which results in the army blocked by damage in a narrow canyon but a Wife (Splendid, the pregnant one) left dead in the melee, along with Nux hiding on the tanker, although he comes to accept outcast status as well, encouraged by Capable.

 Furiosa’s goal is to take the Wives to the Green Place from where she was kidnapped as a child, but when our escapees encounter a group of wandering women on motorcycles she finds out that her former home is now a miserable swamp (with these nomads the last of her original tribe), so all of these women and Nux set out to go even further away until Max (haunted by a vision of his dead daughter—which creates a continuity problem because he only had a son in the original movie, unless this is—unlikely—a child from a second family "beyond" ... Thunderdome [see next paragraph below]) convinces them to instead attack Joe’s Citadel territory, somehow bringing him down in the process.  As our outflanked/outnumbered/outweaponed-tanker heads back toward the War Boy army all hell really lets loose (as if we hadn’t been witness to enough of that throughout most of this story already) with a plan to once again maneuver through that narrow canyon, block it off in order to prevent further pursuit from the army, then move on to The Citadel in hopes of changing the mindset of the remaining defenders there.  As events transpire, the tanker crew manages to stave off the continuing attacks from the War Boys, Joe is killed in the process (as is his behemoth son, Rictus Erectus [Nathan Jones], a name indicative of the patriarchal paradigm under fire in Miller’s pro-female-script), Nux sacrifices himself in order to bring down the canyon walls to block off further pursuit, allowing Max and Furiosa (who was badly wounded in the final battle but helped back to health by a transfusion from ever-blood-ready-Max) to bring about an immediate Citadel uprising when they display Joe’s dead body, leaving us with the assumption that these women (including a few survivors of Furiosa’s clan; she’s a bit worse-for-wear herself, now with a missing right eye to match her truncated left arm, but even Miller acknowledges that she’s the true protagonist of the piece so she’ll persevere) will now be this society’s leaders, sharing its vital resources with all of the inhabitants, not including Max who, as usual, rides away to parts unknown.

So What? Maybe part of what swayed me to see Mad Max: Fury Road is its depiction of a world so destroyed that it’s turned into a desert, better preparing me for what may await my once-lush-California if this damned 4-year-drought doesn’t come to an end soon (ironically, Miller wasn’t able to shoot his landscape scenes in normally desert-realm-inland-Australia because unusually heavy rains brought forth such a blooming of vegetation that he had to go to the Namib desert of southwest Africa [parts of Angola, Namibia, and South Africa] to get the shots he desired without resorting to computer-generated-imagery—although some of the early scenes in the 3-D version that I saw rendered that actual landscape in the background as so flat compared to the foreground that it looked more like a painted backdrop; unless you’re just a fiend for 3-D I saw nothing about its use in this movie to justify those expensive glasses).  Some writings about … Fury Road have likened it to a reboot of the Mad Max concept (as with J.J. Abrams crafty-time-warping-re-launch of Capt. Kirk and company in Star Trek [2009], Star Trek Into Darkness [2013; review in our May 24, 2013 posting]) with Hardy now in place of Mel Gibson from the first 3 tales (Mad Max, 1979; The Road Warrior, 1981; Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, 1985, all directed and co-written by Miller), but most reviews and synopses indicate that we’re just moving on from … Thunderdome with merely a change of lead actor (maybe the just-announced-plans for further Max prequels—see the comment at the end of my next section—will fill in the chronological gaps for the titular-character) without decades of actual time passing, in the same manner that the James Bond plots, until Casino Royale (Martin Campbell, 2006), assumed a continuity of action occurring in less time than the release years of the actual films from Dr. No (Terence Young, 1962) to Die Another Day (Lee Tamahori, 2002), just using different guys playing the same 007.  If this is the case, then Max continually confronts a desperately-rugged-life in an environment where warfare is constant to maintain some control of water, guzzaline, and human reproduction, leading to repetitive battles for our protagonist and his allies (this latest one seemed similar at times to The Road Warrior, but, then, these limited-concept-stories often find themselves mirroring earlier episodes, as with Return of the Jedi [Richard Marquand, 1983] aping much of the original Star Wars [George Lucas, 1977]—since retitled A New Hope, as all in this series acquired an episode number) against a constant onslaught of leather-clad-antagonists who seem to have wandered over from an S&M-porno-casting-call (bringing along quite a collection of human-skull-emblems this time, although that may be an ongoing-icon in these Max movies because I can’t recall many of the specifics of the earlier ones right now).

 How you’re likely to respond to Mad Max: Fury Road depends largely on what you expect to happen in a movie house when you shell out several dollars for a ticket, along with the optional accouterments of 3-D, refreshments, etc.  If all you want is a couple of hours of well-made-mayhem where it’s all about desperate heroes on the lam from despicable villains in time-worn-vehicles chasing each other across miles of unforgiving sand until the inevitable moments when bodies are crushed beneath rampaging autos/trucks or shot down at close range in do-or-die-firefights (at one point when Max is standing atop the tanker truck with a rifle shooting at various War Boy pursuers, blowing them all away, it reminded me of John Wayne as the Ringo Kid doing virtually the same thing against incoming Indians in Stagecoach [John Ford, 1939]), then this assault on your senses (with equal assaults on the actors’ bodies, because much of what you see of these speeding gas-guzzlers and their occupants involves actual-photographed-chases rather than CGI-facsimiles) should be satisfying to you because the action constantly builds tension; there are enough variations in how different War Boys and their ferociously-ugly-leader are menacing Max, Furiosa, Nux, and the Wives so that parallel shots of pursuit and combat are energetically-edited together; and there’s a clear sense of accomplishment as Joe is brutally killed, allowing the victorious women to bring change to The Citadel, giving some hope that its resources will be used to build a more communal life for these survivors of catastrophe rather than Joe's cruel kingdom with only his heirs as rulers, many of the subjects locked into life-sustaining-fluid-production, and limited allocations of water keeping the peons under control in their need for this precious substance intertwined with their internal battles for getting some of it when Joe allowed only enough to flow to keep his population both needy and desperate.  However, if what you want is more exploration of how all of this came to be, how despots such as Joe are able to maintain command of their empires when there are seemingly plenty of miserable subjects ready to rebel against their iron-fisted-rule, and what really happened to Max’s family that set him on his miserable journey (you get quick flashbacks of an attack, along with his hallucinations of a young girl berating him for not being an effective protector, but for more than that you’ll just have to rent the 1979 original, where you’ll find Keays-Byrne as Toecutter, a member of the cruel motorcycle gang that did those killings), then you’ll likely come away wondering why you didn’t just find some collection of demolition-derby-highlights on some obscure cable TV channel rather than spending your time and money watching not much more than well-produced-scenes-of-destruction for 2 hours in a movie theater.

Bottom Line Final Comments: Mad Max: Fury Road has generally been embraced by critics (an astounding 98% positive reviews from Rotten Tomatoes, an equally strong 89% 
Metacritic score; more details in the links far below) at a much higher degree than I’m willing to offer, although I did find the cinematography and choreography of the many chase scenes; attention to detail of this ravaged, almost non-technological-world—except for motorized vehicles and firearms; and use of weirdly-absurd-elements, such as the heavy-metal-guitarist who rides on the front of one of Immortan Joe’s army trucks blaring away as their murderous hoards bear down upon Furiosa, Max, and company, to be all marvelously-crafted (which enhanced my less-than-overwhelmed-initial-response).  Accordingly, while there are so many other film reviewers out there offering you their opinions on whatever it is I choose to write about that I rarely make reference to them, I’ll offer an exception this time to give you some strikingly-different-statements from my own middle-of-the-(fury)road point of view, with all of them coming from the Movie Sites You Might Like in the column to the right of my text in this blog’s layout.  I’ll start with Jason King (a fellow Australian with Mad Max series-overlord Miller), who runs the Salty Popcorn site, gives … Fury Road 4 of 5, and says: “It harks back to the first Mad Max film where Max’s family is slaughtered, creating the hardened soul of the Max we love, a true super-anti-hero. MAD MAX FURY ROAD also embraces what it is, B Grade 80s action post apocalytpica, something that after the hundreds of current post apocalyptic dystopian films of late we never thought we would need more of.”  In stark contrast we have Fiore Mastracci (of Pittsburg, PA, where he creates Outtakes featuring the Right Critic with both web and YouTube reviews) who offers a mere 3 of 10 (or 1½ of 5 on my scale, for the mathematically-challenged among you) because he rejects that Furiosa should be the lead character, not Max: “His name in the title is a ploy to ensnare Mad Max fans to a movie that they would otherwise have ignored.  It’s a cheap ploy used to spread an ever irritating feminist propaganda at the expense of an already established male movie model.”  (There’s always a cluster of movie notations on his reviews page so you’ll probably have to scroll down to find the one about Mad Max; you can also go to his home page to see what he does like, with Avengers: Age of Ultron getting a full 10 of 10 [my 3½ of 5 review is in in our May 7, 2015 posting]; given my friend Fiore’s feelings about this latest Mad Max [and my frequent disagreements with him about a lot of things despite respecting the knowledge-base he possesses], I doubt he’d be all that thrilled to know that Miller brought The Vagina Monologues’ playwright, Eve Ensler, to the filming in Africa to coach his female players for what he accepts as a feminist-based-futuristic-story that speaks out against violence toward women [see Miller’s comments in the 3rd option of the suggested links far below].)

 More along the lines of my response to … Fury Road I’ll give you an offering from another Australian site, Odean Online (which makes much better layout use of Google Blogspot software than I’ve ever been able to accomplish), run by Steven East, where he offers 3 of 5 for this writer-director’s latest effort because “I was looking for a little more depth, more character development (although perhaps Miller assumes we know Max’s back story – but what happened in the intervening years I wonder, and what about Furiosa too) and perhaps an insight in to the world as it is.”  Well, Steven, you get your wish as Miller is planning 2 prequels to ... Fury Road, with the 1st to be called Mad Max: Wasteland (not ... Furiosa, as cited in earlier reports), so we may get more backstory on both Immortan Joe and Imperator Furiosa, although unless an amnesia plotline works its way into the scripts there shouldn’t be any meeting of Max with either of them in that he apparently first encounters these Citadel leaders in … Fury Road.  Because superhero (and related futuristic sci-fi-movies such as the Mad Max franchise) are now spinning plots out into the next decade of this century we’ll just have to wait awhile to see what’s actually next in this barren landscape.

 For my Musical Metaphor to conclude these comments on Mad Max: Fury Road (maybe I can convince Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld, and the rest of their crew to saunter over from Pitch Perfect 2 to sing it; nah, they’re probably too busy negotiating a contract for another sequel where they have to win the contest for best a cappella group in the solar system [they’ll have to go for the galaxy in the 4th one]) I’ve chosen Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” (from his 1975 Born to Run album) but in a version at where the focus initially is on his co-performer, Melissa Etheridge, as she offers a long introduction to bringing Bruce out to join her for a relatively-quiet-acoustic-duet (March 21, 1995, from an episode of MTV Unplugged), but if you’d prefer a more typical “Bruce!  Bruce!” attack (with him in his undershirt, the E Street Band backing him up, in what seems to be a VHS recording—in gloriously-grainy black & white—from the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, NJ [September 19, 1978, also with a long intro to the song]) then here you go at; if nothing else, this pairing of performances of a tune about “all the redemption” that can be offered being “beneath this dirty hood” may speak to those critics of Mad Max: Fury Road who complain about its intentions being too locked into a feminist agenda, co-opting a former-male-centric-franchise which is better exemplified by the grittier memories from the past.  If that’s how you feel about this most recent episode of Max’s struggles with existence that’s your right as a viewer (and reader of anyone’s analysis of any movie), but for me I’m satisfied with both versions of the Springsteen song just as I don’t feel that Max has been undermined by Furiosa any more than Bruce has been by Melissa, although I would agree that old-school-Max does work for me better than this new movie version but only because I found The Road Warrior to be the most intriguing of all of these stories, no matter who was in the title role nor what obstacles he was forced to face.
Short Takes
 I’ll offer a wrap-up this time that speaks not to anything further of a cinematic nature but to 2 recent larger-concept-wrap-ups that have a much greater cultural impact than anything I’m likely to say anyway.  First, like so many others, I’ll note my sorrow at the recent death of blues-legend B.B. King.  As another great-late-musician (George Harrison) once said, all things must pass, but B.B.’s mastery of traditional blues singing as well as his command of a guitar fret board will be sorely missed except in how they live on in his many recordings.  I’m fortunate to have seen him perform a couple of times in the last couple of decades with my marvelous wife, Nina, but she got to see him in an even-better-show at the Oakland, CA Arena way back in 1969 on a bill with Ike & Tina Turner and the Rolling Stones (such combinations don’t come around too often—I missed a chance in the mid-1970s to travel from Austin to Houston for a California celebration with the Beach Boys, the Eagles, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young because by the time I found out about it all of the tickets were gone, just like “the King” is now [I refer to B.B. in this context, not the long-departed Elvis]).  While I could easily help you remember marvelous Mr. King with one of his own songs I think that an even-more-appropriate-tribute would be with something that speaks to his career as a whole—and that of so many fabulous entertainers who give so much of themselves to their fans at the possible expense of their own health and personal stability—Willie Nelson’s “Night Life,” so here’s B.B. King performing it with Willie from sometime, somewhere in 1984 at, aided by their respective famous guitars, Lucille and Trigger.

 My other farewell tribute is to Matthew Weiner’s marvelous Mad Men (which, as I noted in my last posting, provided me with the inspiration for my Musical Metaphors with its use of a similar tactic connected to many episodes’ closing credits), which has now concluded its 7th-season run on AMC, one of the best TV dramatic series that I’ve ever seen (along with many others in the industry who felt the same way, as it won the Emmy for Best Dramatic Series 4 times, along with 11 more of these prestigious awards).  With all of the trauma that the various characters caused for themselves and each other on their collective journeys through the culture-upheaval-events of the 1960s (a significant decade for me as well, one that I admit my memories, tastes, and orientations are frequently stuck in, even when such sticking is quite enjoyable), it was a pleasure to see that most of them, by November 1970 (one of the few times on Mad Men’s many episodes where we got a specific temporal reference to the larger context in which the plot events were occurring), seemed to be headed (at least temporarily) to better times than they normally had endured (except for Betty Draper Francis [January Jones], diagnosed with incurable cancer, but she seemed resolved to her circumstances as being part of the hand that life deals us rather than railing against fate for her misfortune).  Even the chief-con-man, the duplicitous Don Draper (Jon Hamm), finally found himself on the road to inner peace, leaving his life of personal and professional (advertising industry) lies behind, as he joins a group of other peace-seekers at a California coastal retreat, greeting the morning with a chant of the Hindu sacred word, OM.  So, I’ll wish Don and his former colleagues farewell with one of my most pleasant memories of the 1960s, time spent quietly listening to the Moody Blues’ 1968 album, In Search of the Lost Chord, which concludes with their musical reflections on this word in their cut also called “OM,” at, visualized with a good number of computer-graphics-illustrations (some of them appropriately psychedelically-inspired) for you to mediate upon until next we meet again.

 Although … lest I try to end on too lovingly-organic a note here, I must admit that Weiner certainly tops me with his final use of a well-known-song of the era to conclude an episode by running the famous 1971 "I'd like to buy the world a Coke" ad, which I interpret as a sly—or blatant—comment on how advertising, and the mass media in general, so often uses something emotionally-stirring (such as Don’s seemingly-emerging-holistic-consciousness or the lyrics of this jingle, “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony”—which, ironically, went on to be a pop hit as sung by both The Hillside Singers and The New Seekers without the Coke lyrics, although hearing the song on the radio coupled with the memory of the commercial probably helped subliminally sell as many sodas as did the ad itself) as a means to peddle a product, reminding us that whatever better world might await these Mad Men characters could easily be turned into sentimental hogwash, just as they’d been doing for their clients for the entire run of the series.  Mad Men may have ended with satisfyingly-implied(but not verified)-closure for these folks, but Weiner didn’t let us forget the marvelously-snide-satire that made this show such a success.  (Some have already suggested that this ending implies Don simply channeled his newly-found-New-Age-vibe into this very-effective-but-highly-manipulative-ad, in that it was actually produced by the McCann-Erickson agency, where many of Don’s fictional colleagues ended up, with presumably a job open for this creative titan if he chose to reclaim that lifestyle [he was even reminded that Coca-Cola awaited him as a client if he’d come back to NYC]—however, I’m trying my best to not be cynical enough to accept this downbeat interpretation of Weiner’s marvelous surprise ending but we may never know for sure—although I can offer you Jon Hamm's take on it for your consideration.)
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Here’s some more information about Mad Max: Fury Road: (23:23 interview with director George Miller; lots of clip inclusions that are different from the one in the trailer just above)

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By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile.    Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.