Current Cinema, Disney Movie of the Month


After all of the secrecy, speculation, and mysterious viral marketing campaigns, Brad Bird’s new live-action sci-fi feature Tomorrowland is finally here. Was it worth the wait?

© Disney

© Disney

Mostly, yes. While I won’t be giving a full review (I’ll leave that to the professionals), I do have an opinion of a few things that I wished made it to the final cut:

1) More Plus Ultra. Brad Bird and his co-screenwriter Damon Lindelof created a really cool concept for the film about a secret society of the world’s best minds called “Plus Ultra.” Most references about the group were cut, which is unfortunate because the group plays an incredibly important, foundational role in the narrative. Thankfully, much of this mythology is online (see links below), but it still would have been so great in the film.

Here’s a scene that was cut that explains more about the society (enjoy the vintage-style Disney animation in the clip, too):

2) More 1964 World’s Fair. I was hoping that the film would show more of a digital recreation of the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Alas, we only get a quick glimpse of the entrance, the non-existent Hall of Invention building (it was created for the film), and a quick view of the PepsiCo/UNICEF “It’s a Small World” pavilion (the queue, boats, and flume of the attraction were filmed at Disneyland where the attraction was relocated after the World’s Fair). The crew also filmed footage at the Carousel of Progress attraction, which was the former GE pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair (the attraction now resides at the Magic Kingdom Park in Walt Disney World), but none of the footage made the final cut. Total bummer.

3) More Tomorrowland. The production team along with futuristic designer Syd Mead created an incredible world of Tomorrow for the film. Unfortunately, we don’t get to spend a lot of time there during the movie. I left wanting more, more, more (and a big yes to jet packs in the future!).

4) More Walt Disney (maybe). Given the content of the alternate reality game that took place during the D23 Expo 2013 to promote the film, it seemed like Walt Disney the man would be playing a role in the movie. Instead, the only mention of Walt Disney that made it to the final cut is in the opening credits and on the digital recreation of the PepsiCo/UNICEF pavilion at the World’s Fair (Disney’s name is on the building). /Film has a great write-up about this. It’s probably just as well, as much of this fictional representation could have been misinterpreted, but it still would have been great to explore more the contents of the fictional “1952” box and how Walt Disney was a modern-day member of the Plus Ultra Society in the film’s mythology.

Oh well. Despite my complaints, the film is still a lot of fun and it’s great to see an original family film slug it out with all of the summer sequels at the box office. Go see Tomorrowland and let me know what you think.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Tomorrowland is currently playing in theaters.


Classic Cinema

“The Way We Were”

Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand in "The Way We Were" (© Columbia Pictures, 1973)

Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand in “The Way We Were” (© Columbia Pictures, 1973)

Opposites attract, but only for a while in the 1973 tear-jerker The Way We Were. Starring Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand, the film is an American love story set amid the political turmoil before, during, and after World War II.

Streisand plays Katie Morosky, a strong-willed Jewish woman with penchant for political activism. Redford plays Hubbell Gardiner, a very WASP-y and privileged guy with the aspirations (and the talent) to become a writer. The two meet in college in the late 1930s, but it isn’t until a chance encounter in New York City after the war when they fall in love. The lovers end up moving to Hollywood where Hubbell pursues a career as a screenwriter. When the U.S. House Committee on Un-American Activities starts putting the smack down on suspected communist sympathizers in the entertainment industry, Katie takes a stand but Hubbell plays it safe in order to keep his job. You can see where this is going—the lovers’ future is sadly doomed by their lack of mutual conviction and shared values.

Written by Arthur Laurents and directed by Sydney Pollack, the film is a solid, albeit glossy, romantic drama. The interweaving of the political turmoil of the times provides a unique backdrop for both the romance and the demise of the relationship. And the star power and on-screen chemistry of Redford and Streisand is why we go to the movies in the first place.

Of notable mention is the film’s famous title track, with music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman, and perfectly sung by Barbra Streisand. The song won an Academy Award for Best Original Song; Hamlisch also won an Academy Award for the Best Original Dramatic Score for the film and a Grammy for Album of Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I watched The Way We Were on Turner Classic Movies. Thanks, TCM!

Have you seen The Way We Were? What do you think of the film? Leave a reply below.

Disney Movie of the Month

“Cool Runnings”

© Disney

Leon, Rawle D. Lewis, Malik Yoba, and Doug E. Doug in “Cool Runnings” (1993) © Disney

Y’all know that I’m a big fan of the Walt Disney Studios. I thought it would be fun to watch one Disney film a month from here one out and blog about it. This month’s entry is Cool Runnings, the 1993 sports comedy based on the true story of the bobsled team from Jamaica that competed in the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics.

The film tells the inspirational story of Jamaican runner Derice Bannock (played by actor Leon) who decides to form the island’s first bobsled team after an unfortunate event crushes his dreams of representing Jamaica in the Summer Olympics. Bannock meets former American bobsledder Irv Blitzer (played by John Candy) who happens to be living in Jamaica and they recruit three more locals for the team (Rawle D. Lewis, Malik Yoba, and Doug E. Doug). Blitzer becomes the team’s coach and together they overcome multiple obstacles to qualify and compete in Calgary. It’s also an ultimate fish-out-of-water story, with the Jamaicans trying to figure out what it means to compete in the cold and on the world stage.

While the film is in many regards your basic sports movie, it rises above the standard clichés with its winning (and funny) script, terrific acting, and great direction from director John Turteltaub (While You Were Sleeping, National Treasure). It is a fun and inspiring film.

One final bit of trivia—Cool Runnings was released in October 1993, just months before John Candy’s untimely death in March 1994. I’m glad he was able to see his terrific performance in the film.

Rating: 4 of out 5 stars

Cool Runnings is currently available on Netflix.

Have you seen Cool Runnings? What do you think of it? Leave a reply below.

Cinema Italiano 2014

“Cinema Paradiso”

Philippe Noiret (Alfredo) and Salvatore Cascio (Toto) in 'Cinema Paradiso' (1988)

Philippe Noiret (Alfredo) and Salvatore Cascio (Toto) in ‘Cinema Paradiso’ (1988)

So I’m a few days late, but the final Italian film on my 2014 viewing list is the 1988 sentimental beauty Cinema Paradiso. The story, told in flashback, recounts the life of Salvatore (aka “Toto”), an Italian film director who returns to his home in Sicily for the first time in 30 years. His return is due to the passing of Alfredo, his dear friend and mentor who was a film projectionist at the town’s cinema. The film shows the highs and lows of Salvatore’s childhood, his love of movies, his first romantic love, and his decision to leave home to pursue his dreams.

I haven’t seen this film since 1990. I couldn’t help but be swept away in reflection of my own life over the past 25 years–of happiness, sadness, lost love, life decisions, and, most importantly, of dear people who cared for me and helped me along my way.

Written and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, the film also contains an unforgettable soundtrack by prolific Italian composer Ennio Morricone, It won a well-deserved Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1990. Nostalgic, heart-rending, and beautiful, Cinema Paradiso is a love letter to movies, to Italy, and to life.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Cinema Paradiso is available on Netflix DVD.

Cinema Italiano 2014

“The Bicycle Thief”

Enzo Staiola and Lamberto Maggiorani in 'The Bicycle Thief' (1948)

Enzo Staiola and Lamberto Maggiorani in ‘The Bicycle Thief’ (1948)

The 1948 Italian classic The Bicycle Thief (Ladri di biciclette, or Bicycle Thieves) is considered by many to be one of the best films ever made period, let alone one of the greatest Italian films of all time. Directed by Vittorio De Sica, the film tells the story of an impoverished family living in post-World War II Rome. Antonio, the father, gets a job that requires the use of a bicycle. When the bicycle gets stolen, Antonio and his son Bruno search throughout the Eternal City trying to find the bike and restore his job and dignity.

The film is Italian neorealism at its most stark, tangible, and in your face. As stated on The Criterion Collection website:

“The neorealist movement began in Italy at the end of World War II as an urgent response to the political turmoil and desperate economic conditions afflicting the country. Directors such as Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica, and Luchino Visconti took up cameras to focus on lower-class characters and their concerns, using nonprofessional actors, outdoor shooting, (necessarily) very small budgets, and a realist aesthetic.”

Among the film’s many kudos, The Bicycle Thief also won a Special Foreign Language Film Oscar in 1949 “as the most outstanding foreign language film released in the United States during 1949.”

Frankly, I find the film to be depressing as all get out, but I guess that’s the point. It shows the ruinous toll that war and fascism wreaked on the people of Italy. It’s an important film and definitely one worth checking out and thinking about.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I watched The Bicycle Thief on TCM.

Current Cinema

First Look at “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

Image © Lucasfilm and Disney

Image © Lucasfilm and Disney

One thing I never thought I’d see in my lifetime was another Star Wars movie with a storyline past Episode VI (and particularly with the prequel trilogy leaving such a bad aftertaste). Now, as we all know, that’s changed and Episode VII, or Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be coming to a galaxy near you in December 2015.

The first teaser trailer is here and it makes me feel like I’m 12 years old all over again. What do you think of it?