Every summer has its hits. But with its hits come some even bigger misses. As the box-office stands right now, Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland and Gil Kenan’s Poltergeist remake look to be two titles that have failed to make a splash in cinemas across the world. Kenan has fared better, considering his spook-house re-do only cost $35 million, while Bird is having to make a return on one of $190 million (excluding marketing costs). Paul Feig’s Spy, on the other hand, stands as movie which seems destined to tread water. With an average $30 million opening, Spy will most likely get lost in the shuffle with the arrival of Jurassic World next week, but will remain as a lighter alternative to some of the more spectacle driven options this season, which will allow it to gain respectable, if not exceptional, numbers. Are all three of these movies titles which perhaps deserve the box-office fates that have befallen them? Or should audiences be showing a little more love?  

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Tomorrowland (Dir: Brad Bird)

Tomorrowland holds the opinion that we are all too concerned with our own destruction to have fun any-more, both in our movies and in the real world. It is an interesting position to hold, and allows for Brad Bird’s second live-action feature to appear to have an extra-textual layer that speaks beyond its own surface as an old-fashioned adventure. There was much to be excited about in regards to Tomorrowland (screw the ‘A World Beyond’ subtitle, needlessly wordy), as it looked to provide an old-fashioned yarn with all of Bird’s retro-outfittings brimming with fresh life and a keen sense of adventure. While some of that is present, what has been delivered is one of the more disappointing blockbusters of the summer season so far, and its hard not to blame co-writer Damon Lindelof.

Young Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) is a bright and inquisitive teenager who yearns for adventure and new discoveries in a world that only seems concerned with digging its own grave. She soon discovers the existence of a futuristic world when she stumbles across a pin which transports her to the world of ‘Tomorrowland.’ With the pin only offering a glimpse of this new exciting world, Casey sets out to find her way to ‘Tomorrowland.’ She soon finds herself paired with reclusive inventor Frank Walker (George Clooney), who visited ‘Tomorrowland’ as a child but was banished due to a certain invention. Together, Frank and Casey set out to travel to ‘Tomorrowland’ and make the future just that little bit brighter.

Much of the first third of Tomorrowland does well to build an effective mystery surrounding the nature of ‘Tomorrowland’ and why Frank left. We spend a great deal of time in the realm of ‘Tomorrowland’ as we witness young Frank enjoying his invitation to the world, before focusing our attention on Casey and her quest to find her destiny. Bird enjoys revelling in the clearly lovingly designed world of ‘Tomorrowland’, taking the Disney theme park origins and inviting us to take a ride that feels wholesome and exciting. It is only when the action turns to Casey’s adventure and the re-discovery of ‘Tomorrowland’ that it all begins to unravel, and it becomes clear that the writers had no idea where they were going with this at all. Tomorrowland-3

The reason I signal out Lindelof, something I’m sure he’d be quick to attack, as he so often does when fanboys voice opinions about him, is that the film suffers the same structural issues as a number of films that he has a credit on. The likes of TV’s Lost, Prometheus and Star Trek Into Darkness all do well to build a sense of mystery, but ultimately cannot conclude or offer answers which make any logical sense. Tomorrowland unfortunately suffers greatly from this writing style, as while Casey is built to be a saviour, she ends up having very little effect on the outcome of events, leading to a conclusion that makes very little sense and holds a strange elitist message which sits uncomfortably with the wholesome tone of the opening.

There are enough visuals and flair that mark the fact that what you are watching is a Brad Bird movie, and it does present an original story with some interesting ideas, yet it struggles to negotiate them and does not know how to provide a pay-off, exhibiting symptoms of what I will now refer to as ‘The Lindelof Effect.’ It is a shame that original work like this isn’t being all that embraced by audiences, but you can hardly blame them when the results turn out as bland and empty as this slowly and unfortunately revealed itself to be. 3/5  

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Poltergeist (Dir: Gil Kenan)

Horror remakes rarely work out. I struggle to think of ones that have truly impressed me, with The Texas Chainsaw re-do and the Fright  Night remix being the only ones that strike me as titles I remember all that fondly. The main problem with a lot of remakes is the lack of justification; most of these remakes exist with an air of pointlessness around them, making it hard to be excited about any of them. The original Poltergeist, directed by Tobe Hopper from a story by Steven Spielberg (although set rumours would suggest it was really a Spielberg joint) is a fun haunted house ride, with a great sense of playfulness and nastiness imbued in the tale of a family desperately trying to find their daughter who is trapped in a realm populated with pissed off spirits. The remake, coming courtesy of Gil ‘Monster House’ Kenan and producer Sam Raimi is more respectful than most remakes, even if it does still struggle to justify its existence.

The set-up remains largely the same as we follow a family consisting of two parents (Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt), teen-aged daughter (Saxon Sharbino), 10 year-old son (Kyle Catlett) and 4-year old Madison (Kennedi Clements) who gets taken into a spiritual realm, leading to the family doing their best to get her out. Much of the proceedings and set-pieces also play out like they did in 1982, but Kenan seems to have a found his entry point by focusing the story on the character of the son, Griffin. In Catlett he has found a likeable presence to carry the movie in such a fashion and it gives the movie more of an Amblin spirit than even the original had.

In terms of the scares, there’s little that really makes you jump. There are numerous scenes in which jump scares are silently built up to deliver red herrings or construct a sense a dread, a technique which grows very tired after its employed more than twice. Kenan enjoys himself once the madness begins, as his very mobile camera creates a good sense of continuous action in the suburban home. Much of the imagery remains from the original (balls of floating Poltergeist_trailerlights, demonic tree, hands pressed against a now wide-screen TV) but Kenan does provide some scenes and spectacle that are all his own, namely when we catch a glimpse of the spirit realm that resides in the back of Madison’s wardrobe.

While I certainly enjoyed this remake, as it carries a similar sense of spooky fun, it still does very little to justify why it exists. It makes use of modern technologies, but more could have been made around having so many screens within a household, losing a sense of paranoia which could have been so easily attained. It sticks a bit too close to the playbook to allow such a development to be fleshed out, yet also loses a great deal of the build-up that was found in the original, which has much more fun with the discovery of the ghosts before the proverbial shit hits the fan. But it is a respectful remake that is far from a travesty, which is  perhaps the best thing a remake can hope to be. 3/5  

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Spy (Dir: Paul Feig)

There is usually a movie every summer that critics adore and lather praise on that I end up thoroughly disagreeing with. Spy is that movie. How on earth this film has gotten the praise it has received is beyond me, as for me it stands as one of the blandest, bloated, and only intermittently entertaining flick this summer. Melissa McCarthy is a star that I have had a difficult relationship with. Easily the best thing about Bridesmaids, everything else McCarthy has done since has done nothing to help me form a positive opinion of her. Tammy and Identity Thief are definite films to avoid, while The Heat, which was also a Paul Feig movie, only mustered some chuckles from McCarthy’s shtick. Here in Spy, we seem to have an amalgamation of all the types of characters that McCarthy is famous for, the humble good-natured individual and the foul-mouthed volatile presence, and it is as messy as it sounds.

Spy largely operates as a James Bond spoof, as we see CIA agent Susan Cooper (McCarthy) being given the chance to finally go out in the field when all of the active agents’ identities are compromised. Fuelled by a desire to prove to her superiors that she has what it takes to be an effective agent, she sets out to prevent a negotiation involving the purchase of a nuclear device.

While it gets some mileage out of the globe-trotting escapades that a spy movie offers, the film is still far too long at nearly two hours. Once again, I cannot stress enough how important it is for a comedy, particularly one relying on improv, to keep to a tight and manageable 90/100 minutes. There are far too many scenes which stretch a joke for far too long, particularly involving a self-deprecating Jason Statham. The first few reels of dialogue with Statham work, but the joke goes on for far too long, resulting in a film which could easily be a good 15 minutes shorter.

Much of the comedic value here comes at the expense of McCarthy. I imagine Feig would like to think he has written an empowering film, and while she does get a good couple of well choreographed fight scenes, many of the jokes are focused on McCarthy’s weight and/or ineptitude at being a spy (despite the script making us aware that she should be a perfectly adequate spy). McCarthy is a steady hand at her own improv, it is just a shame that the script feels it has to poke fun at her in order to provoke laughs. spy-4-gallery-image

There is fun to be had in some areas of the supporting cast. It is entertaining to see Statham in this kind of role, while Alison Janney provokes some laughs through a dry sardonic wit. The film is at its best when McCarthy is paired with her Bridesmaids co-star Rose Byrne, who is delightfully bitchy in a villainous role, even if she is responsible for most of the jokes which put down McCarthy. The two actresses give as good as they get though, with the pair firing back and forth from each other in what are the sharper moments of the film. Less successful is Miranda Hart’s transition to big-screen comedy. Her routine barely passes on television and her presence here is nothing short of irritating and distracting.

Quite how Spy is rocking a 95% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes is beyond me, as it is only occasionally funny with the odd moment of inspired action comedy. Otherwise, it is an over-long and very bland piece of American comedy which pales when held in regard to more successful spy spoofs (the under-rated Top Secret! remains a personal favourite). It may be a change of pace to some of the blockbusters out there, but not one I found particularly welcome. 2/5 

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