(Video on Demand, October 2015) I may have been expecting too much of Tomorrowland. Seeing Brad Bird’s name as a director may have led to inflated expectations. (Although those should have bene tempered by seeing Damon Lindelof as one of the writers). Still, seeing the results, I’m not entirely convinced that high expectations are the only problem: For a film that consciously tries to promote a better future than the post-apocalyptic clichés we see so often these days, Tomorrowland can feel naïve, elitist and half-witted. (Contemplate the quote “…what would happen, if all the geniuses, the artists, the scientists, the smartest, most creative people in the world decided to actually change it? (…) They’d need a place free from politics and bureaucracy, distractions, greed – a secret place where they could build whatever they were crazy enough to imagine.” and tell me what could go wrong with this idea.) What’s more, it barely exists within its own story: The standout sequence of the film, an uninterrupted two-minute glimpse at a better tomorrow, is revealed to be an advertisement, and the climax is barely more than another fight next to an evil radio transmitter. There are, admittedly, some great moments on the way to the dull conclusion: A few wonderfully kinetic action sequences filled with tactile details; a steampunk detour in Paris; a cranky performance by George Clooney. But the script feels unfinished, episodic, filled with dumb ideas that don’t even sustain a first look. (Have I told you about the aging man with a crush on an under-age robot? Because, yes, that’s in here.) The elitist leanings of the film’s philosophy are annoying to anyone who even has a coherent idea of how the world works, and even worse –it feels like the kind of dumb elitism that gifted teenagers usually outgrow in college. Even for those who are enthusiastically supportive of the “envision a better tomorrow” idea at the core of Tomorrowland, the film itself becomes its own worst advocate, and none of Bird’s directing flourishes can help a deeply flawed script. And while you may think that “arguing about a film’s philosophical stance’” makes for a better critical experience than dismissing yet another unimaginative blockbuster, the frustration I’m feeling is in no way pleasant or satisfying.
(In theaters, December 2011) The Mission: Impossible series has never been about realism, and this fourth entry continues to deliver the kind of spying-fantasy action that the franchise does so well. While it would be correct to bemoan the series’ lack of real-world themes or relevance, it’s also missing the point: Mission Impossible is about featuring visually dynamic action directors, giving Tom Cruise a rock-solid star vehicle, and having just enough plot to run through a series of action/heist set-pieces. It works pretty well: Brad Bird’s live-action debut as a director show his skill in handling complex sequences mixing together wide-screen locales around the world, high-tech equipment (which, hilariously enough, always seems to be failing), movie-slick stars and a good sense of rhythm. The series has been good at showcasing innovative action sequences and Ghost Protocol does well in setting a chase inside a sandstorm and then later on a fight in an automated parking garage. What’s somewhat new is a tenuous amount of continuity with the previous installment: just enough to give the actors something to do during the dialogue scenes, but also in terms of visual continuity, much stronger between the third and fourth film than any of the previous entries. While Ghost Protocol doesn’t have a villain as strong as Philip Seymour Hoffman in the third installment, it’s good enough to give a little bit more of what has been good about the series so far. While Cruise is now pushing credibility as an action hero (the next ten years are going to be tough for him as he’ll have to let go of his boyish grin), the Mission: Impossible series is still his most reliable, most audience-friendly franchise. Expect another installment within a few years… and expect it to be decent.
(In theaters, July 2007) After a temporary half-eclipse with Cars, the Pixar team returns in full force with an unbelievably slick film about a gourmet rat and the pleasures of gastronomy. An unlikely mixture, but one that works well: through a mis-matched pair of protagonist who each need something from the other, we’re able to explore the inner workings of a French restaurant. But as usual for Pixar’s best offerings, there’s a lot more under the surface here: Terrific comedy, strong details, sweet romance, superb action scenes, heartfelt moments (including a number of epiphanies, a rare-enough emotion in movies) and exceptional characterization. None of it would be possible without a solid script that allows itself third-act curveballs (it’s not over until it’s really over) and some of the best computer animation ever seen so far. Pixar takes pain to make it appear as easy as they can, but there’s a lot of sophistication under the surface. Witness, for instance, the cleverness in which the photo-perfect food and backgrounds are integrated with the more stylized human and rodent characters: It allows identification and sympathy for the cartoons, while immediately exploiting all we know about food and the physical world. There’s a neat bit of synesthesia at play during some of the sequences, and very clever use of imaginary characters as an expository device. But the mechanics are there for a good reason, and the result is nothing short of a movie-long delight. Funny, thrilling and effortlessly accessible, Ratatouille, like director Brad Bird’s previous The Incredibles, immediately vaults to the top of this year’s list of films.
(Second viewing, In theatres, July 2007) Worth seeing a second time? Certainly! Freed from the constraints of the story, I’m left to enjoy the flawless slapstick animation, the details of the photo-realistic backgrounds, the way the filmmakers set up the shots and the reaction of the crowd around me. A few flaws appear (I’m not too thrilled at who says the line “That’s bad juju”, or the dumb line “I hate to be rude –but we’re French”. After all, you seldom hear “I hate to be the immature product of a delusional capitalistic imperialist society –but we’re American”), but they’re really minor things: The film holds up in every aspect, sign of the meticulous care in which it was fashioned. Ratatouille confirms its place in the yearly Top-10 list, and makes a serious contender for best-of-the-year honours.