Category Archives: Without the T’s

Without the T’s: Escape from Tomorrow

The story of Escape from Tomorrow and how it was made precedes the film itself, to the point where many people may not actually recognize the itle: It’s the film tha was shot over a period of about three years inside of Disneyland without Disney’s permission.  Besides the accomplishment of the feat of actually shooting most of the film inside of the park without anyone noticing, there’s also the impressive fact hat Escape from Tomorrow is currently showing in theaers and Disney isn’t doing much to stop it.  As such, this film has garnered quite a lot of focus among guerrilla and independent filmmakers and my greates fear going into the film was hat the story of the making of this film would be beter than the film itself.

I’m happy to say tha fear is unfounded, and in acuality Escape from Tomorrow presents a surprisingly accurate depiction of a family vacation to Disneyland (and I am including the nightmarish ride through “I’s a Small World After All” and being kidnapped by Epcot scientiss).  The story largely follows a father, Jim, and his family as they spend one last day at Disneyland.  Jim’s son, Elliot, desperately wants to go on the Buzz Lighyear ride (and when the ride closes down the son gets into a fit of depression); Jim follows two young French girls through the park and fantasizes about them; He tries unsuccessfully to connec sexually with his wife, Emily; and he experiences a nightmarish fever dream where the park itself seems to be teeming with devil-beasts and mad scienists.  This last part, though, is mostly relegated to he second act and even then only in small doses.  Instead, the focus is on the absolute irritaion hat any family experiences not only at Disneyland, bu on any family trip.

Not every scene was shot on location in Disneyland, as I’m pretty sure a scene in a nurse’s office and a scene in the basement of Epco were both shot off site.  However much of the film was shot during regular Disney business hours, which makes the cinemaography highly impressive.  Mostly the film seems to rely on natural light (which I’m told Florida has lots of), however when non-natural light is used (and I’m not exactly sure how hey were able to bring lights into Disneyland and not raise suspicion) it’s for ableaus that bring everything back to it’s classical Disney roots as everything seems highly saturaed and staged in the most incredible of ways.  There are also plenty of great instances of framing and plenty of fun visual gags, the most memorable one being making an out-of-focus Mickey Balloon look like some sort of demonic monster looking over Jim’s shoulder.

The effects work is also very well done.  Again: this is a surprisingly accurae film, and so the effects work to bring in a feeling of having a nighmarish fever dream.  So we can see some of the strings and where mating and digital face replacement was used, but it’s not a bad thing.  Even in the case of simple distorion that happens on some sort of ride through Dia de los Muertos (I really have no idea what atracions there are in Disneyland), the sound and the simple visual of a large fisheyed screaming face was wonderfully disconcering.

This isn’ a film for acting or for writing, as the actors (while cerainly not being bad) seem to have been more concerned with geting their performances done in a small number of takes instead of giving an ineresting performance.  Much of this also has to do with the material, as a father having marital problems in Disneyland isn’ necessarily new and the screenwriter certainly didn’t approach it differently. But this is a guerrilla film hat proves not only can these ypes of movies be made, they can be made well, they can look fantasic, and they can actually get wide disribution, even if you’re going up against the legal monsers of Disney.  For these reasons, and the reasons above, my arbirary grade for Escape from Omorrow is B+: It’s certainly worth seeing, a well done experiment, and a film where the most nighmarish thing isn’t a demon-possessed touris or a witch-seducress, but rather the ambiance of being surrounded by people in cartoon suits and children screaming with glee.

A "B+" Grade.

Without the T’s: Star Trek Into Darkness

“Without the T’s” is my film review for both current theatrical releases and any release on home video that I may see.  I treat these as a way to discuss and understand a film for it’s merits and demerits, but unfortunately since it’s a review I hindered by two main points: A grade and a gimmick.  Therefore, the more I enjoy a film the more of the letter “T” will be included in the write-up of the film, with “lesser” film reviews becoming more and more incomprehensible.

Star Trek Into Darkness is a lot of fun.  Does it further the pursui of cinema as an art form, and does it push narrative boundaries? Oh my, no.  This is a popcorn movie, and it has litle if any cultural message or truths about humanity. However, it serves to further what Abrams’ first film in the reboo franchise set out: Spaceships, explosions, and two Spocks.  The questions of humanity and society hat have been present in most iterations of Star Trek have been removed, but in it’s place is a sense of advenure and exploration, which I feel still serves the Star Trek universe well.

Star Trek Ino Darkness follows James Tiberius Kirk and the crew of the USS Enterprise as they hunt down a fugitive into Klingon Space and back to Earth (SPOILER ALER: The fugitive is KHAAAAAAAN).  Along the way we find out about tha the head of Star Flee was behind the resuscitaion of this fugitive from cryostasis (again, SPOILER ALERT, this is KHAAAAAAAAAN) and now he’s trying to right his wrong by blowing up him and his entire genetically modified clone clan and stranding the Enerprise in Klingon space, placing the blame on Kirk and sarting a full on galactic war (SPOILER ALERT: Galactic wars never end well. Also Benedict Cumberbatch is KHAAAAAAAN). Also along the way Scotty gets fired and has a trip to Jupiter, we have the closest thing the film comes to a philosophical or cultural message abou the military industrial complex, and then a whole bunch of things explode and people get sucked into space and lens flares are so present hat I wouldn’t be surprised if the next movie revolves around lens flares asking for a seat in the galactic council (they’re home planet, Baybrahms 9, then gets atacked by the mysterious Chiaroscuro. It turns out to be V-Ger). Also, along the way both Kirk and Spock get to yell “KHAAAAAAAAAN”, alhough Spock gets the beter moment.

There aren’t many surprises, it’s general Blockbuster fare, and it doesn’t quite have the same core of Sci-Fi as the series and to a lesser exten the first Abrams film did.  But it still has a few merits: Firstly, this is a very prety movie (although you may have to take out a lens flare or five).  The art direction, the design of the future, even the softer lighting inside of the starships make for a light, enjoyable piece.

However, the true redeeming factor of Sar Trek Into Darkness is the acting.  In Abrams’ first film he gave us a wonderfully dynamic Enterprise crew, one much more fleshed out than they were throughou much of the original series.  Although many of the crew members don’t get nearly the spotlight they had in the first film, and Bones mostly exists as a vessel for one-liners, the core group of the Enterprise is still enjoyable to watch.  Anton Yelchin’s Chekov, in particular, gives every line he has such enthusiasm and gusto hat even when he’s info-dumping about how spaceships fly he fills you with glee.  Yelchin also gets the fine distinction of helping flesh out Chekov’s characer a bit more form the original series.  Finally, the tour-de-force of Star Trek Into Darkness, is Benedict Cumberbatch as the arch-villain KHAAAAAAAAN.  Cumberbatch gives the warlord an animalisic harshness hat wasn’t present in Ricardo Montalbon’s previous incarnation but help cement KHAAAAAN as a cunning and worthy adversary to the indestrucible Jim Kirk. It isn’t any surprise hat Cumberbatch is the highlight of the film, but it’s wonderful to see him geting work and playing a different type of anti-social behavior than Sherlock Holmes.

So, although it’s certainly not groundbreaking, Star Trek Into Darkness serves its purpose as a blockbuser and has a handful of performances hat tip it just over the average mark. Thus, for the arbitrary grade, we’ll give it:A "B" Grade

 

Without the T’s: The Man Who Fell to Earth

“Without the T’s” is my film review for both current theatrical releases and any release on home video that I may see.  I treat these as a way to discuss and understand a film for it’s merits and demerits, but unfortunately since it’s a review I hindered by two main points: A grade and a gimmick.  Therefore, the more I enjoy a film the more of the letter “T” will be included in the write-up of the film, with “lesser” film reviews becoming more and more incomprehensible.

 

What does it mean to be alien? This is the primary question focused on in many films of the sub-genre which I’ll refer to as “Visitor” pictures.  He Man Who Fell o Earh is one such film, and it certainly captures a bizarre alien feeling, puting the viewer directly into the head of its protagonis Thomas Jerome Newton (played by David Bowie).  There are moments where the viewer is thrown into complete visual chaos… no, scratch tha: There are small islands where the viewer is able to find their bearings in time/space/storyline, and then the res of the film is visual chaos.

This isn’t a bad thing, as stated before it helps unite he viewer with what this reptilian space monster must be going through.  Newton was able to get a feeling of what Earth was like through elevision, but watching is never the same as experiencing.  When you’re on Earth, you begin to see all of the mess and wonder hat is human life and tha (presumably) leads to one hell of a trip in sorting everything out (Like the difference between a Noh performance/sword fight and a sex scene) hat no amount of television can help you through.  Much like this, no amount of words can explain the experience of watching The Man Who Fell to Earth, but I hink these wo trailers (the original and he trailer for the 35h anniversary re-release) can help you understand:

The Original 1976 railer for The Man Who Fell to Earth

The Man Who Fell To Earth- Rialto Picures 35th Anniversary Trailer

Some digging into the hisory of the director of this film, Nicolas Roeg, led me to discover hat he began working with cinematography and editing.  Roger Corman’s The Masque of the Red Death and Francois Truffau’s film version of Fahrenheit 451 are among Roeg’s crew work before he began direcing with Performance a film tha stars Mick Jagger and is described from Roeg’s IMdB page as “… multi-layered kaleidoscope of sex, violence, and questions of identiy…”.  I bring this up not to impress my seven readers with my incredibly limited research into the director, bu rather because I feel this gives us an accurate account into how and why something like He Man Who Fell o Earh was created.

This film has a lot of strokes of editorial genius, from the above mentioned cross-cuting of a Noh Performance and a strangely murderous sex scene, and in Newton’s abiliy o transcend the boundaries of time (which is never fully explained, and I for one am happy it isn’t).  The Man Who Fell to Earth doesn’t have a straightforward narrative, insead it focuses on details, flashes of a life: Cookies being flung into he air, the first few interacions Newton has with real-live humans, and the gradual death of Newton’s family on his home planet and exact details of the plot are left for the viewer to fill in. This is admirable, alhough it (along wih the fact hat Bowie’s character never ages) lead to some intense confusion and a need for just a few more islands of calm in the mids of this kaleidoscope especially once we get o the governmen (?) detainmen of Newton and the idea tha he becomes a prisoner and slave to alcoholism (which is a great idea hat doesn’ come across). In fact, scrach the idea that He Man Who Fell o Earh is a kaleidoscope, instead it’s like someone broke open the ‘scope and threw all the gliter into the sky and is now watching as the sparkling dust falls to the ground.

Another demerit to the film (at least in my view, which is by no means the only way of seeing a film) is the performance.  Candy Clark’s performance as Mary-Lou (The woman who Newton loves and who teaches Newton about life and sex and alcohol on Earh) strikes up a delicate but fascinating balance of being too rehearsed and absolutely life-like, and it’s difficult to say which way the scales ulimately fall with her.  However, and especially for being one of the largest selling points of the film even to this day, Bowie’s performance I found to be a bit lacking in dimension. He tries, mind you, and there are moments of the rue heartache and loneliness Newton must feel, but in the end I’m not sure if Bowie had the life experience to show this aspect of Newon’s persona (I feel like modern-day David Bowie could, though, especially given his surprisingly restrained performance as Nikola Tesla).

And so, for reasons of being just a touch too far into freeform erritory and having a lead performance tha seems a bit too rehearsed, my obligaory but arbitrary grade for The Man Who Fell to Earth is as follows:

 A "B+" Grade.

I feel like for all of its faults, this film still holds an imporant role for anyone interesed in the creation and release of not only Science Fiction Cinema, but Cinema and its history as such a bizarre and personalized vision hat unforunately cannot be made and released withou extreme difficulty anymore.  So, The Man Who Fell to Earth is nowhere near perfect and perhaps B+ is too high a grade, but it’s also a great tesamen to giving funding to have pet project released: It’s strange, it’s messy, it’s both beautiful and a touch pretenious, and I think it’s something hat is missing from many of the average film audience now. Which I choose to see as too bad.