Britt Robertson, George Clooney

Britt Robertson, George Clooney

“TOMORROWLAND”  My rating: C

130 minutes | MPAA rating:  PG  

It’s overwritten, overcomplicated and overlong.

But if you can get past its narrative muddle, really irritating dialogue and a plethora of unanswered questions, “Tomorrowland” offers a potent metaphor about the triumph of human hope and ingenuity.

Wish it were enough. But this time the winning run of writer/director Brad Bird (“The Iron Giant,” “The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille,” “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol”) has hit a major speed bump.

It’s not all bad news. George Clooney heads a fine (if not particularly well-used) cast, the state-of-the-art effects are terrific and the film (co-written by Damon Lindelof of “Prometheus,” “Star Trek Into Darkness” and TV’s “Lost”) cleverly taps into a deep well of baby boomer nostalgia.

Nevertheless, the film is an emotionally muted mess that can’t decide if it’s for kids or grown-ups.

It starts out promisingly enough. At the 1964 World’s Fair in NYC, young Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson) proudly submits his homemade jetpack to an invention contest.

His creation is rejected, but Athena (Raffrey Cassidy), a mysterious young girl with a Brit accent, introduces the boy to Tomorrowland, a futuristic city  in another dimension. Tomorrowland is accessed by a secret portal in Walt Disney’s major fair attraction, the “It’s a Small World” ride. (Bird, a big Disney buff, rarely misses an opportunity to tap into the shared childhood memories of his generation. And the Disney studio gets a plug for its theme park ride.)

In the present we are introduced to Casey (Britt Robertson), a brainy teen whose engineer dad is working his way to unemployment by dismantling NASA’s launch pads in Florida. (Haven’t you heard? The good old USA is pretty much out of the space business.)

Casey finds herself in possession of a mysterious  souvenir pin from the ’64 World’s Fair. When she touches it she is instantly transported to Tomorrowland, a bustling city of sleek towering buildings, zipping monorails and buzzing hovercraft where whatever you dream up can be made reality.

She begins investigating the origins of her pin, hooks up with Athena (who hasn’t aged a day in 50 years) and eventually finds herself with the now-adult Frank (Clooney), a hermit holed up in a farmhouse crammed with sophisticated electronics. Frank — who has a bank of TV screens monitoring environmental disasters, wars, water and food shortages, nuclear threats and social upheavals — is glumly awaiting the end of the world.

Literally. He even has an electronic clock counting down to the day a few weeks hence when it all goes to hell.

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On the lam: David Wiberg, Iwar Wilander, and Robert Gustafsson

“THE 100-YEAR-OLD MAN WHO CLIMBED OUT THE WINDOW AND DISAPPEARED” My rating: B- (Opening May 22 at the Glenwood Arts and Tivoli)

114 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Sweden gave us Ingmar Bergman, one of the true geniuses of the cinema.

But none of Bergman’s movies enjoyed anything like the boxoffice clout of “The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared,” a picaresque comedy based on Jonas Jonasson’s international bestseller. Felix Herngren’s film is Sweden’s biggest domestic hit ever.

Those who equate Scandinavian cinema with dour soul searching are in for a pleasant surprise. “The 100-Year-Old Man…” can best be compared to “Forrest Gump” — the shambling story of one man’s life and his many encounters with the great and powerful.

Written by Herngren and Hans Ingemansson, this is really two stories, one unfolding over a single week in the present, the other spanning several decades and continents.

The “hero” of both is Allan Karlsson (Robert Gustafsson, sporting some pretty convincing old-man makeup).  In the present he’s an independent codger who on his 100th birthday stages a jailbreak from the nursing home where he reluctantly resides.  He hits the road and has adventures.

Allan is a bit of a doofus.  Not spectacularly stupid, but weirdly eccentric and focused on his own obsessions, particularly good liquor and blowing things up.

In the here and now Allan spends his last krona for a bus ticket, in the process absentmindedly departing with another passenger’s suitcase. The luggage is revealed to hold a fortune in cash intended for a big narcotics deal. As a result Allan and everyone he befriends on his trek will find themselves pestered by the members of a singularly inept biker gang and an international drug lord (Alan Ford) who wants his money back.

Along the way Allan teams up with  Julius (Iwar Wilander), a retired stationmaster  who has all sorts of ideas of how to spend their windfall, and Benny (David Wiberg), a sad-sack thirtysomething perennial student who is always changing majors and as a result seems to know something about everything.

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far_from_the_madding_crowd_carey_mulligan_tom_sturridge_1“FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD”  My rating: B (Opening wide on May 15)

119 minutes  | MPAA rating: PG-13

Like the 1874 novel on which it is based, the latest screen adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd has so many melodramatic plot twists that it’s almost laughable.

Yet we don’t laugh. Romance, tragedy and social insight percolate throughout this story of a woman who revels in and suffers because of her stubborn independence.

The success of the book — and any film based on it — lies in Hardy’s ahead-of-his-times feminism, his depiction of subtle psychological states, and the beauty of his language (or visual style, in the case of a movie).

With Carey Mulligan as the strong-willed Bathsheba Everdene and a supporting cast of mostly-solid players, the new “Far from the Madding Crowd” nicely balances those elements.

But a warning: Those who fondly recall John Schlesinger’s 1967 version with Julie Christie may find the approach of director Thomas Vinterberg and screenwriter David Nichols too muted and subdued.

The earlier film had big dramatic moments and oozed a pastoral passion eagerly embraced by its major stars (Christie, Peter Finch, Alan Bates, Terence Stamp). But the Danish Vinterberg, a founder of Scandinavia’s austere Dogme 95 film movement, aims for low-keyed realism rather than high drama.

We first encounter Bathsheba on horseback. She is riding in the proper sidesaddle fashion, but when she’s sure nobody is watching Bathsheba  throws a leg over the big beast and takes off on  a glorious gallop — man-style.

That scene and her encounter with a neighboring shepherd, Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), establish her as a woman with big aspirations even if she has no idea of  how to achieve them.

When after just one encounter Oaks asks her to marry him, Bathsheeba turns him down.

“I would hate to be some man’s property,” she says, adding, “You would grow to despise me.”

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mad max fury road“MAD MAX: FURY ROAD” My rating: B

120 minutes | MPAA rating: R

There is dialogue in the new Mad Max film — mostly delivered in a nearly indecipherable variety of Aussie English — but it really isn’t necessary.

You could eliminate all the words or replace them with made-up gibberish and this still would be the same movie, still a symphony of speed and violence, still a textbook example of visual storytelling.

It’s been 30 years since director George Miller wrapped up his Mad Max trilogy and moved on to projects like the family-friendly “Babe” and “Happy Feet.”  But he remains fascinated with Max’s post-armageddon comic-book world, a world filled with great deserts, rusty cars and trucks cannibalized into bizarro war machines, and traversed by that lonely warrior, Mad Max.

This “Max” is bigger, badder and noisier than previous entries. There’s never been much room in the series for human concerns, and this time around there’s even less.

Even the character of Max (Tom Hardy replacing Mel Gibson) is little more than a physical presence.

But as a mind-boggling exercise in pure action “Mad Max: Fury Road” is overwhelming, achieving the sort of visual poetry typically ascribed to “Ben-Hur’s” chariot race or one of Sam Peckinpah’s blood ballets.

Max, a prisoner of the despotic desert king Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played the villain Toecutter in the first “Mad Max” back in ’79), finds himself swept along on a mission of vengeance and recovery.

Immortan Joe’s five wives — gorgeous young women apparently free of the diseases afflicting most of surviving mankind — have escaped with the help of Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron, with shaved head and a missing arm), a sort of over-the-road trucker.

Now they’re being pursued across a dusty wasteland (filmed in the sands of Namibia) by the angry husband/king and hundreds of souped up vehicles outfitted with flamethrowers, monstrous crossbows and other jerry-rigged implements of mayhem.

Furiosa’s goal is to find “the green place,” an oasis of water and peace remembered from her childhood. Good luck with that. Continue Reading »


Kim Shaw and David Dastmalchian

“ANIMALS” My rating: B+

90 minutes | No MPAA rating

Years ago I decided I’d seen just about every permutation of the drug addict movie that I cared to see.

I hadn’t reckoned on “Animals.”

This feature debut from director Collin Schiffli and screenwriter David Dastmalchian (a former Overland Park resident who also stars and based the story on his own drug history) is a revelation, not so much for what it tells us about heroin as for what it tells us about the human capacity for love.

As the film starts out Jude (Dastmalchian) and Bobbie (Kim Shaw) are living out of their car. They’re junkies, but at this stage of their shared habit it all seems, well, romantic.

He’s thin and dark and kinda Goth.  She’s girl-next-door blond. They are clearly smitten with one another and determined to share everything — from physical intimacy to their stash.

Their days are spent hanging out near Chicago’s Lincoln Park. Schiffli occasionally punctuates the human story with shots of various animals in their cages at the nearby zoo — not-so-subtle symbolism and one of the few times when the film feels forced.

When we first meet the couple they’re what you might call middle-class junkies.  They can pass for normal. They don’t seem particularly desperate.  In fact, they’re enjoying themselves immensely.

They run nonviolent scams  — like shoplifting CDs and reselling them on the street –to get their hands on money and drugs.

If they need to up their income, Jude publishes an ad offering Bobbie’s sexual services. She’ll show up for a prearranged session at some lonely guy’s home, collect half the evening’s fee, and announce she has to deliver it to her pimp out in the car before any physical business gets underway.

She and Jude laugh all the way to their dealer.

The first half of “Animals” is about drug addicts who seem to think that their love will get them through anything.

The second half puts that thesis to the test. Which is stronger, romance or heroin? When your veins are twitching, are you selfless enough to give your last fix to that special someone?

Shot and performed in a naturalistic manner, “Animals” somehow manages to turn most of the drug cliches inside out, putting a human face where nowadays most of us like to think in terms of policy.

| Robert W. Butler

iris 1_apfel_best_news“IRIS” My rating: B

83 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Don’t be surprised if after watching “Iris” you throw open your closet door and sadly conclude that your wardrobe is boring as shit.

After spending time with designer/raconteur/eccentric Iris Apfel, “normal” clothes just don’t cut it any more.

“Iris” is one of the last films from the late, great Albert Maysles, who died March 5 at age 88. With his brother David, Maysles  pioneered the cinema verite movement with films like “Gimme Shelter” and “Gray Gardens,” documentaries that told their stories by closely observing,  eschewing extensive pre-planning and post-production.

Two Apfel outfits from her Metropolitan Museum of Art show

Two Apfel outfits from her Metropolitan Museum of Art show

The subject here is Iris Apfel, who for more than 60 years has been a force in American fashion and style.  She’s created and manufactured fabrics, operated a wildly successful interior design operation, and amassed America’s most extensive collection of fashion accessories (in Apfel’s hands damn near anything may prove to be a fashion accessory).

In 2006 the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art mounted a hugely popular show of outfits Apfel assembled from things in her closet.

The first thing to be said about Apfel is that at age 93 she is tremendously sharp and wildly entertaining, with a terrific sense of humor and the up-to-date vocabulary of a twentysomething.

Unlike many in the fashion world, Apfel is no snob. She doesn’t care what you or I think, as long as she feels good in the outfits she assembles. (Putting together these various “looks,” she admits, is more fun than actually wearing them out.)

For one thing, she doesn’t make clothing or other fashion items. Rather, she hits the bargain stores, ethnic markets and swap-and-shops in a never-ending quest for interesting items of clothing and jewelry.

She may take an elaborately embroidered Chinese coat and then embellish it with beads the size of hen’s eggs, a bracelet (usually several of them) as big as a kosher bialy, and an immense feather boa.

Add to that her boyish shock of white hair, her huge bottle-bottom eyeglasses, and a slash of fire-engine red lipstick, and you’ve got a figure who might provoke laughter.  But no one laughs because Iris Apfel has an uncanny ability to make it all work. That’s her genius.

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“WHITE GOD” My rating: B

121 minutes | MPAA rating: R

If Stanley Kubrick had remade “Spartacus” with a cast of canines you’d end up with “White God,” the weirdest fantasy you’re likely to encounter this year.

This Hungarian feature from director Kornel Mundruczo at first appears to be a boy-and-his-dog story…only this time the human half of the equation is a 13-year-old girl.

With her mother and stepdad off to a summer of study abroad, Lili (Zsofia Psotta) is stuck with her father, Daniel (Sandor Zsoter), a slaughterhouse meat inspector who lives in a depressing bachelor pad.

Daniel is unsympathetic when Lili shows up with her beloved mutt Hagen (played by two dogs, Luke and Body). His lease doesn’t allow for pets and, given that he spends his days probing the still-quivering corpses of cattle,  he’s not exactly an animal person.

Before long Hagen finds himself out on the streets, separated from his young mistress and learning how to survive. Apparently Budapest has a major problem with feral dogs, for the vacant lots and riverbanks are crawling with them. “White God” wordlessly observes as Hagen joins the pack and learns how to outsmart the animal control crews tasked with rounding  them up.

Things get really bad when our canine hero is captured and sold to a thug who brutally trains the pup to kill in the arena. (Don’t be mislead by the “Lassie Come Home” premise — this film is filled with bad human behavior, from language to drugs to violence. It is most definitely not kids’ fare.)

Hagen’s brutalization is contrasted with the downward spiral of his young owner. Lili takes to roaming the streets alone at all hours. Relations with Daniel are strained. She’s picked up by the cops after a night of drunken partying. Her attitude nearly gets her throw  out of the youth symphony where she plays trumpet better than students several years her senior.

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