Movie Review: “Tomorrowland”

Starring
George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Hugh Laurie, Raffey Cassidy, Pierce Gagnon
Director
Brad Bird

“Tomorrowland” does not play by the usual ‘Disney PG movie’ rules. It hits harder, makes the audience uncomfortable, and has an alarmingly high body count. When we finally discover the movie’s endgame, this makes perfect sense, but it might be a shock up front to parents who see that the DreamWorks Animation movies are all PG, and therefore assume that “Tomorrowland” will be no different. It is drastically different – this film is a call to arms. It may take its name from a 60-year-old section of Disney World, but this movie is as right here, right now as it gets.

And while the movie is undoubtedly better than it would have been without writer/director Brad Bird’s involvement, the fact of the matter is that this is Bird’s weakest film, but let’s put that into perspective. He directed three animated masterpieces in “The Iron Giant,” “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille,” as well as the very good “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.” “Tomorrowland” is enjoyable; it just doesn’t measure up against Bird’s other films. It uses a jerky narrative device at the beginning that never works, and actually leaves the audience unprepared for what follows. It also has no business being 130 minutes long.

Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) is a high school science prodigy who spends her free time sabotaging the NASA site where her father (Tim McGraw, yes, that Tim McGraw) works in an attempt to delay his eventual layoff. One night she gets caught and arrested, and while retrieving her things after getting released on bail, she finds a pendant that, when she touches it, briefly transports her to another world with technology that far exceeds our own. In her quest to discover what this place is, Casey gains the help of a girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy), who leads her to Frank Walker (George Clooney), who has also visited “Tomorrowland” but was exiled. Frank reveals to Casey that something bad is coming, and nothing can stop it. Casey convinces the jaded Frank to believe that they can avoid the inevitable, but soon they have another problem: a group of “Secret Service agents” seek to permanently close the bridge between our world and Tomorrowland, with extreme prejudice.

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Movie Review: “The Monuments Men”

Starring
George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Bob Balaban, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville, Dimitri Leonidas
Director
George Clooney

When news spread that George Clooney’s latest directorial effort, “The Monuments Men,” wouldn’t be making its original December 2013 release date, many people were surprised, to say the least. After all, nothing sounded more Oscar-ready than a World War II film based on a true story and starring some of Hollywood’s finest actors. Although the studio’s official response on the matter was that Clooney needed more time to finish post-production, it was most likely because “The Monuments Men” just isn’t a very good film. It’s a lot better than most of the dreck that’s forced down our gullets this time of year, but for a movie overflowing with promise, it’s hard not to feel the sting of disappointment.

Clooney stars as Frank Stokes, an American art conservationist who leads a small platoon of experts – including museum curator James Granger (Matt Damon), architect Richard Campbell (Bill Murray), sculptor Walter Garfield (John Goodman), theater director Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban), French art dealer Jean-Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin) and British professor Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville) – into Europe during the final year of World War II. Their mission is to protect various monuments and buildings from being needlessly destroyed by Allied forces, as well as locate and retrieve the Nazi-stolen paintings and sculptures hand-picked for Hitler’s planned Führer Museum. After completing basic training, the men split up to undertake specific assignments across the war-torn continent, with Granger heading to Paris to meet a fellow museum curator (Cate Blanchett) who could be the key to tracking down some of the world’s most important cultural treasures.

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Potential 2014 Best Picture Nominees

With the full Academy Award nominations due January 16, 2014, the time has come to start sizing up favorites for the Best Picture Oscar. Voters’ tabulations will determine between five and ten films up for the top prize. From familiar directors and stars to surprising breakout performances, this year’s crop features these films and any of a number of other dark horses. On March 2nd, the Oscars will be broadcast on DirecTV Chicago and through many other U.S. cable providers.

12 Years a Slave

The epic narrative about slavery stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as a free African American man from the north who is kidnapped and sold as a slave, while Benedict Cumberbatch plays the plantation master in Louisiana who purchases him. Michael Fassbender, Sarah Paulson, and Paul Dano also star in this gripping true story, directed by Steve McQueen (director of Shame).

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Movie Review: “Gravity”

Starring
Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
Director
Alfonso Cuarón

There are so many appropriate words to describe “Gravity,” yet none of them seem adequate. To call it intense – and boy, is it intense – puts it in the same company as movies about serial killers and runaway buses. To call it bittersweet and uplifting brings to mind “Steel Magnolias.” (It’s nothing like “Steel Magnolias.”) It’s also mind-bogglingly gorgeous, and yet, it’s more than that as well. So forget those words, and remember this one: the movie is magical. It’s the kind of movie that will inspire a generation of kids to grab cameras and let their imaginations run wild, the proverbial face that launches a thousand ships. At the very least, it will raise the profile of director Alfonso Cuarón (“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”) in a way that his previous film, 2006’s brilliant and criminally overlooked “Children of Men,” should have.

Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is on her first space mission. Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) is on his last. Stone and Kowalsky are on a spacewalk, the former trying to fix a piece of equipment she helped design, the latter simply trying to set the record for longest spacewalk. Mission Control informs them of debris from a damaged satellite headed their way and orders them to get in the ship. The debris arrives too soon, however, and shreds their space shuttle beyond repair. Ryan and Matt are the sole survivors of the assault, adrift in space, and have limited amounts of oxygen and time to find a nearby, functional spacecraft before the debris makes its way around the earth and bombards them again.

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