Still from Tomorrowland

On the week­end I final­ly watched Disney’s Tomor­row­land. I sort-of remem­bered its the­atre run, which was under­whelm­ing (appar­ent­ly it lost over $100 mil­lion dol­lars, based on its pro­duc­tion and mar­ket­ing costs vs. its box-office take).

The sto­ry in a nut­shell: As a boy, Frank Walk­er goes to live in a retro-future par­adise, till he’s boot­ed out for some crime that remains unspec­i­fied until near­ly the end of the movie. He grows up into a bit­ter, bit­ter man (played by George Clooney). Mean­while, Casey (Britt Robert­son) might be the key to Frank’s return to Tomor­row­land, and also the key to, you know, staving off the seem­ing­ly inevitable end of the world. Fac­ing off against them is Nix (Hugh Lau­rie) and his army of skin­jobs Audio-Ani­ma­tron­ic robots.

I thought it was a decent movie, worth a watch, even if it was unsub­tle. The scene in the Texas col­lectibles store (Blast From the Past), where Casey squares off against evil AA ’bots Hugo* and Ursu­la, was chock­ablock with reminders that Dis­ney bought Star Wars. Some of the AAs were pret­ty creepy, espe­cial­ly the man­i­cal­ly-grin­ning leader of the Men-in-Black–styled “Secret Ser­vice” squad.

In a world that seems to pre­fer its enter­tain­ment on the grim & grit­ty side, opti­mistic SF is a hard sell. It has a ten­den­cy to come off preachy or heavy-hand­ed, and this movie didn’t man­age to evade those pit­falls. I’m still glad I watched it, though.

It’s an inter­est­ing com­pan­ion to Elan Mastai’s All Our Wrong Todays, which I read a few months ago, in that both explore the idea of alter­nate futures, espe­cial­ly the sorts of futures we seemed to expect in the 1950s (fly­ing cars! shin­ing tow­ers! per­son­al jet­packs!).

* Hugo Gerns­back, because of course.


I went last night to the Evans The­atre to check out Anom­al­isa, which was an Oscar nom­i­nee in the Ani­mat­ed Fea­ture cat­e­go­ry.


I didn’t know what to expect, but I didn’t expect what I got. The sto­ry is pret­ty sim­ple, in a way, but trip­pi­ly com­plex in anoth­er way. The way it’s told leaves it up to the view­er to fig­ure out cer­tain things, which I pre­fer to hand-hold­ing and spoon-feed­ing. The pup­petry / ani­ma­tion was amaz­ing; some­times it was solid­ly in the uncan­ny val­ley, oth­er times it was so life­like that I for­got these were pup­pets.

If you’re look­ing for a movie that makes you think, that makes you won­der, check it out. If you’re look­ing for the feel-good hit of the sum­mer, this may not be for you. (I’ve seen it called “hilar­i­ous” and “laugh-out-loud fun­ny”; I don’t agree. I did find some amuse­ment in it, but most­ly in the small details (“Try the chili!”, for instance), not in the broad­er sto­ry.)


Movie time

Tonight I watched about half of Man of Steel and all of WALL•E. I had nev­er seen the for­mer; I saw the lat­ter at the cin­e­ma.

The end cred­its of WALL•E are a bet­ter movie than Man of Steel, IMHO.

Action scenes

Ear­li­er this week I read an arti­cle on io9 about why you shouldn’t write action scenes, an arti­cle aimed at screen­writ­ers, espe­cial­ly those mak­ing big-bud­get action movies. Then this after­noon, I went to see one of the biggest action films cur­rent­ly in the­atres: Avengers: Age of Ultron.

From the arti­cle:

You don’t do an action sequence for the sake of doing a damn action sequence — you do an action sequence because it’s a new or more effec­tive way to advance your char­ac­ter or sto­ry.

Ultron fea­tured a lot — a lot — of action sequences. The bulk of them, to my eye, were action for the sake of action. A few of them — the mass fight at the start, for exam­ple — fea­tured some char­ac­ter build­ing. Among oth­er things, it estab­lished the team as an actu­al, cohe­sive team, and it showed the start of the Widow/Hulk sto­ry­line. But a lot of the lat­er action sequences were there, it seemed, to Make Things Explode. More than once I found myself won­der­ing when they were going to get back to the sto­ry. (That, or try­ing to cal­cu­late just how much mon­ey Stark’s rebuild­ing fund must burn through in a year. It’s got to be a lot.)

This is not to say I didn’t enjoy the movie. I liked it. It was a pleas­ant diver­sion. For a big stu­pid fun movie, it was decent­ly smart (though the whole plot hinged on a cou­ple of super­ge­nius sci­en­tists mak­ing some pret­ty bone­head­ed deci­sions).

Once more, quot­ing from the arti­cle:

Don’t write action sequences. Write sus­pense sequences that require action to resolve.

We’ll call Ultron a par­tial suc­cess there. Here’s hop­ing that the next film I see — slat­ed to be Mad Max: Fury Road1 — does as well or bet­ter.

Update: I watched Mad Max: Fury Road on the hol­i­day Mon­day. Even though the movie is one pro­tract­ed action scene (or maybe it’s more like a dozen or so action scenes, linked togeth­er with brief paus­es so the audi­ence can catch their col­lec­tive breath), it had more char­ac­ter devel­op­ment and sense of sto­ry than Avengers: Age of Ultron. So that’s a win.

  1. I appear to have a thing for com­mas2 colons in movie titles. 
  2. Typo. Gah! 

Tiens, cherchons le mot juste

Tonight, I watched a pair of amaz­ing home-grown doc­u­men­taries at the Evans The­atre: the 3rd film in the Warpaths tril­o­gy, sub­ti­tled Sil­ver Cross­es, for the memen­to received from the gov­ern­ment by moth­ers and wives of the men killed in action dur­ing the First World War; and Shaun Cameron’s Tales from the Eddy, a look back at Brandon’s famed Prince Edward Hotel, whose open­ing was delayed by the loss of its fur­ni­ture in the Titan­ic dis­as­ter, and whose igno­min­ious end could have (per­haps) been avert­ed if the list of pro­pos­als before City Coun­cil had been ordered dif­fer­ent­ly.

Warpaths: Sil­ver Cross­es, like its two pre­de­ces­sors, was an amaz­ing look at the effects of a glob­al con­flict on the lives of local folks (specif­i­cal­ly, the Bowes fam­i­ly of Bois­se­vain, MB). I enjoyed it immense­ly, as I knew I would. Kudos to Marc George and Gra­ham Street for a fit­ting cap­stone to an impor­tant series.

Tales from the Eddy was an eye-open­ing expe­ri­ence. I moved here years after the hotel was demol­ished; I nev­er knew a sky­line with its impos­ing bulk in it. For the last two decades I’ve heard peo­ple rem­i­nisce about the Eddy, usu­al­ly with that far­away look in their eyes, and I must admit, I rolled my eyes a lit­tle (inward­ly, any­ways). It’s just a hotel, I would think. How grand could it be, real­ly?

Very grand.

I learned a lot about Brandon’s hey­day in the hour-and-change that the doc­u­men­tary was up on the screen. Dozens of still frames of the hotel’s inte­ri­or and exte­ri­or showed me just how amaz­ing the Prince Edward was in its day. For what­ev­er rea­son, see­ing the skate park that has been built where the hotel used to stand — com­plete with help­ful paint­ed labels mark­ing LOBBY and PLATFORM to indi­cate rough­ly the extent of the building’s one­time foot­print — struck me quite hard.

Entropy grinds away at us. That could be tonight’s theme, I sup­pose. But we keep push­ing back against it, and I think I like that theme bet­ter.

Watch­ing Shaun’s doc­u­men­tary, I felt a strange emo­tion, a nos­tal­gia for some­thing I nev­er knew. If the Ger­mans don’t have a name for it, sure­ly the French do.

Compare & Contrast

Years and years ago we showed a film at the Evans called Hard Core Logo, a mock­u­men­tary about a punk band that reunit­ed for one last tour, and spent the bulk of the tour re-hash­ing all the rea­sons they’d called it quits in the first place. (Spoil­er: It doesn’t end real well.)

The sound­track was a “trib­ute album” to a non-exis­tent band (the epony­mous Hard Core Logo), and as such it con­tained some great com­pare & con­trast moments, where two bands with rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent sounds cov­ered the same song.

My favourite con­trast was the two ver­sions of “Son of a Bitch to the Core”:

Lugen Broth­ers


I love both ver­sions. If pushed to pick a win­ner, I’d prob­a­bly give the edge to the Lugen Broth­ers’ country/roots ver­sion — their ver­sion of the char­ac­ter seems more bad-ass than the hard-rockin’ woe-is-me one in the Head­stones’ ver­sion (I think the defin­ing moment is “If you take me on, you’re gonna lose” vs. “If you take me on, I’m gonna lose”).

A Canadian vignette

I have this sin­gle scene for a film in my head, very Cana­di­an: a shot of a south­bound V of geese, mov­ing across a pale blue sky. The cam­era pans down to a soli­tary per­son on the ground, stand­ing in the mid­dle of the street, yelling up at them, “Quit­ters! Get back here!”

Film­mak­ers: If you’d like to use this in your film, please let me know. I’m sure we can work some­thing out.