Glimpses of tomorrow, yesterday in two very different films

Glimpses of tomorrow, yesterday in two very different films
Glimpses of tomorrow, yesterday in two very different films

‘Tomorrowland’

Starring: George Clooney, Britt Robertson

Directed by: Brad Bird

Rated: PG

The prestige of having Brad Bird as director and George Clooney as the star launched “Tomorrowland” into the stratosphere long before it ever hit theaters. Disney is banking big on this summer entry, and while it may have soared a little too high on expectations, it does deliver some good old-fashioned thrills.

Bird is known to be a little sentimental with his movies, and this one is laced with homages to Disney and the future past. With writing help from Damon Lindelof based on an idea from Jeff Jensen, the story is about a boy genius Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson) who lugs his cobbled-together jet pack (two bolted together Electrolux vacuum cleaners) all the way to the 1964 World’s Fair to win the $50 prize for the best invention. It doesn’t exactly work, he tells Mr. Nix (Hugh Laurie), but in the process Frank captures the attention of a curious little girl, Athena (Raffey Cassidy), who hands him a lapel pin with a bold “T” emblazoned on it, and suddenly he finds himself in a strange, new, futuristic world.

Cut to present day and Casey Newton (Britt Harrison) has the same bright mind and spirit of adventure as young Frank did decades before. When she’s gifted with her own pin and visits the land of tomorrow, she’s anxious to know more, which leads her to Frank (George Clooney), now an adult anti-social hermit living in obscurity. Their quest to save the world will take them back to Tomorrowland, but a galaxy of obstacles stands in their way.

Boomers will really take to Bird’s nod to the past with detailed recreations of the World’s Fair and the popular Disneyland ride the movie is named after that premiered in 1955. There is a nostalgic vibe that carries the movie including a visit to the Eiffel Tower that features some famous inventors, including Edison and Tesla, and the best special effect — a rocket launched right out of the center of the tower.

In the third act, the plot bogs down trying to explain why it is, exactly, that the Earth is in peril. Not surprising since Lindelof is great at setting up fantastical stories and less successful wrapping them up. Remember “Lost”? But the message in this cautionary tale comes through loud and clear: Put down the mindless entertainment and adjust your attitude. Engage in things that are meaningful and exercise your creativity because that is what it’s going to take to make a better planet. In other words, the future is now.

 

‘Far From the Madding Crowd’

Starring: Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts

Directed by: Thomas Vinterberg

Rated: PG-13

Amid all the bluster of the summer blockbusters there is always room for a little departure. “Far From the Madding Crowd” is a pretty movie with pretty people where no one so much as raises a voice and there’s not one special effect — not even one.

This has not had a remake since 1967 when Julie Christie starred with Peter Finch. Directer Thomas Vinterberg has crafted a luscious landscape (most of the film was shot outside) for the Thomas Hardy classic adapted for the screen by David Nicholls, using much of Hardy’s original prose. Carey Mulligan takes the lead role as Bathsheba Everdene, whose passions cast a long shadow that will influence the actions of the three men most important in her life.

This story was adapted for present day in the movie “Tamara Drewe” with Gemma Atterton a few years ago. But Vinterberg returns the story to the original time period in the late 1800s where Bathsheba first meets sheep farmer Gabriel Oak (Dutch actor Matthias Schoenaerts). He is smitten, but she rebuffs his proposal. When they meet again, she has now inherited her uncle’s farm and in need of Gabriel’s services. Bathsheba also captures the attention of a nearby landowner, William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), who is more pitiable in his affections allowing he would settle for companionship only if she’s willing. Again, she spurns this suitor and turns her affections to the impetuous soldier Sgt. Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), but they are destined to be miserable when she learns he has affections for another woman, Fanny (Juno Temple).

It’s hard to imaging a more beautiful movie in recent memory. Cinematography, set design and costumes all come together for a most authentic glimpse of pastoral life during this era. While Mulligan is a perfect choice for the stubborn, willful Bathsheba who must face the consequences of her actions. Her co-stars are also cast well with Schoenaerts a stand out as Mr. Oak, as stoic as his name implies.

This is an art house treat playing now at the Landmark River Oaks Theater in Houston.

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