‘ReInnoventing’ Epcot

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Since 1982, Walt Disney World’s second theme park Epcot has been capturing the imagination through education and glimpses into the future. At least, that was EPCOT until the last few years. Starting in the early 2010s, the identity of then EPCOT (now Epcot) has been shifting away from education to food, wine, and a few thrills. With the recent closures at Epcot (Ellen’s Universe of Energy) and at Hollywood Studios (The Great Movie Ride and soon One Man’s Dream), it is clear that the leadership and Imagineers of Walt Disney World are moving in new directions compared to the legacy direction the park(s) have demonstrated over the decades. Although it mostly flew under the radar for a large portion of park one-time guests and even some regulars, over the last few years–and increasingly so, over the last few months–Future World’s Innoventions is, much like Ellen’s dinosaurs, extinct…

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“The Glass Castle” film review

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An organic, unapologetic emotional rollercoaster. Based on the novel by the same name written by Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle provides audiences with a glimpse into the childhood, young adulthood, and then-present day life of Jeannette Walls. After watching the film and end-credit scenes of the real Jeanette and family, it is clear that the movie is supported by a screenplay that takes its inspiration from the tome-like book. From what I have read, this film successfully adapts the novel to the screen, inclusive of all the intangibles and the unseen or heard elements from the book. Furthermore, this film strikes a fantastic balance between family drama and biographical motion picture. For all that this film has going for it, it falls short of the big-budget tear-jerker that is expected of Destin Daniel Cretton after his hit Short Term 12. However, those who choose to see this gritty slice of life, who have not seen Cretton’s previous works, will likely miss just how safely objective this film is. Although you will likely identify with one or more of the characters, in general, audiences will feel that they are safely watching the events unfold from a removed vantage point. The danger in bringing a story like this one to screen is creating characters that are either too softened compared to the real people or too detestable. Fortunately, Cretton skillfully tells a story that plays as authentic as cinematically possible.

You can choose your friends and lovers, but you cannot choose your family. The Glass Castle is the film adaptation of the memoire authored by Jeannette Walls (the central character). Jeannette and her three siblings must learn to take care of themselves and survive life as their parents are free-spirited responsibility-adverse individuals who inspire and inhibit growth and education. When he was younger, their father generated a great deal of warmth, compassion, individualism, and creativity; but when he turned to drinking more heavily, he allowed them to go without food and watched over them like a warden watches over prisoners. Meanwhile, mom was completely disgusted with the idea of being a domestic so she allowed the children to care for themselves and even prepare her meals. Jeannette and her siblings faced great adversity growing up, but grew to become contributing members of society.

This is one of those films that you go into thinking that a particular actor or character is the main one, but in all reality, it is the antagonist, if you will, that is the main character. Jeannette Walls (Brie Larson) may be the author of the novel and a lead character, but it is actually Rex’s (Woody Harrelson) movie. On one hand, Rex is a brilliant father who is preparing his kids for the harsh realities of life and how to not fall victim to blending in or turning into someone you are not. On the other, he is a belligerent drunk who cares very little for the well-being of his children and even ships them off to live with his aged mother who is a child molester. Through all the struggles and setbacks, Jeannette and her siblings learn resilience and strength to face whatever life throws their way whether that is extreme poverty or molestation.

The Glass Castle relies upon switching between the present story and flashbacks to hone in on the relationship between Jeannette and her father Rex. Often times, flashbacks are used as means to lazily integrate exposition into the film or explain some other dynamic; however, much like the background story in Fried Green Tomatoes is just as interesting as the foreground story, the rotation between Jeannette’s childhood and her adulthood is performs well and creates quite the interesting dichotomy. Both have the central focus of showing the development or lack thereof in Jeannette’s and Rex’s relationship. Not that other relationships take a backseat, but there focus is squarely on Rex and Jennette. There is one particular scene in the film that deserves special attention, and that is the restaurant scene with Jeannette and Rose Many, her mom played by Naomi Watts. The degree to which this scene is pitch-perfect is almost uncanny. The tension, emotion, and cathartic release commands attention.

Ultimately, the strength of this film lies in the writing and lead cast. Only to a minor extent does the screenplay depart from the source material. And in doing so, the film is strengthened. For those who enjoy films in the vein of The Help, you will enjoy this story as well. To keep the film from being too dark, Cretton adds some feel-good moments to the film that do not attempt to sanitize the past but honors the complicated truth in Jeannette’s and Rex’s relationship.

“Dark Tower” movie review

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A paint-by-the-numbers “epic” story with a prolific number of Stephen King references. Adapted from the Dark Tower series of novels by Stephen King, Dark Tower introduces movie audiences to one of King’s masterpiece works of literature. Unfortunately, the movie takes place in the middle of the series and fails to leave audiences wanting to see more. For the most part, it offers up little more than an enhanced SyFy Channel original movie or a one-time HBO film. With a powerhouse leading cast consisting of Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, it constantly feels that the actors were held back from that which we are normally accustomed. That is, not to say that there aren’t enjoyable parts of the movie–certainly seeing all the King references are fun and it is a great premise. I only wish the story and characters had been allowed to develop over the course of three films. Although there is sufficient evidence to suggest that some movies in the recent past that have been forced into a trilogy instead of a strong, concise single film, this is an example of a one-time film that truly needed the room of three films to develop and emotionally connect with audiences. There is never a dull moment in the film, nor an opportunity to become bored because the film is incredibly rushed and turning points are forced into place.

At the center of the universe stands a massively tall dark tower that keeps the bulk of evil forces at bay. Under attack by Walter (McConaughey), the last gunslinger Rolland (Elba) must destroy Walter and his following before they destroy the dark tower and wreak havoc on Keystone Earth and the other planets in the universe. Harvesting children with “the shine” from earth, to use their minds to destroy the tower, is the method employed by Walter and he has his eyes on a child whose shine is greater than any other. After Jake (Tom Taylor) evades capture by Walter’s henchmen, he finds himself on Mid World where he meets gunslinger Rolland. Under constant siege by Water, Rolland and Jake must make a arduous journey to Walter’s headquarters where he is mounting his attack against the tower. With the fate of the universe at stake, Rolland, Walter, and Jake face-off in an epic battle of good versus evil.

There is not much to dissect here. One thing is for sure–and I have not read the books–BUT, from what I know of the books, fans of the literature will not like the film because it takes what happens over the course of “King” sized novels and condenses it down to little more than a short story turned 2hr film. Not having read the books, I was not set up for disappointment. That being the case, I enjoyed the film for the most part. But it was obvious that it was incredibly rushed and there was little if any development in plot or character. No emotional investment to be found. It’s a shame; the premise of the film is fascinating and I think there is a high degree of probability that I would have enjoyed following the franchise had it been more than one film. The way the movie ends does lend itself to possible sequels, but after the very “television” feel of this one, it is going to have a hard time convincing future audiences to invest time and spend money on it. If anything, this film does prompt me to read the novels upon which it is based. One argument that could be made in the film’s defense is the same one that can be made when looking at many of the films based upon King’s works. His novels are so dense, internally driven, and detailed that is is difficult to successfully translate effectively from page to screen. Obviously, there are exceptions to this trend (i.e. the upcoming IT theatrical release).

If you are a fan of fantasy and adventure films with a hint of science-fiction, then you will likely enjoy this movie. If you love the series of books, I feel fairly confident that you will not like this adaptation. Perhaps this film will inspire a network to spearhead an epic television series. I think that is where this story will be best shown.

Written by R.L. Terry

Edited by J.M. Wead

“Dunkirk” film review

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Journalism meets cinematic visual storytelling. Christopher Nolan’s war epic Dunkirk provides audiences with a different kind of war movie experience. Different in that the narrative is nonlinear and highly experimental. From a technical perspective, the film is flawless. The cinematography, sound design, and score all work together to create an immersive experience in which that fourth wall is nearly removed. One of my friends that I saw the film with last night described it as being a fly on the wall within each timeline. With little dialog, the focus is on the various groups of the army, air force, and civilians. The stylistic film reminds me of photo/video journalism. Dunkirk demonstrates that an emotionally satisfying experience can be delivered without conventional storytelling. In many ways Norma Desmond would be proud of Nolan’s film because “[he] didn’t need dialog, [he] had faces.” Dunkirk invites audiences in for a rare glimpse into the reality of war, and the reality of not only the armed forces but the civilian assistance that truly made the difference and just why this particular war story is so remarkable. Be sure to brush up on your knowledge of the events of Dunkirk before watching the film. You’re definitely going to need to have a base of knowledge of the theatre before becoming the proverbial fly on the wall.

Instead of a plot synopsis, here is what Wikipedia has as a summary of the history of Dunkirk Evacuation. This is definitely going to be helpful prior to watching the film.

During the Second World War (1939–1945), in the May 1940 Battle of France, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France aiding the French, was cut off from the rest of the French Army by the German advance. Encircled by the Germans they retreated to the area around the port of Dunkirk. For years, it was assumed that Adolf Hitler ordered the German Army to stop the attack, favouring bombardment by the Luftwaffe. However, according to the Official War Diary of Army Group A, its commander, Generaloberst Gerd von Rundstedt, ordered the halt. Hitler merely validated the order several hours after the fact. This lull in the action gave the British a few days to evacuate by sea and fortify defences. Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, ordered any ship or boat available, large or small, to collect the stranded soldiers. 338,226 men (including 123,000 French soldiers) were evacuated – the miracle of Dunkirk, as Churchill called it. It took over 900 vessels to evacuate the Allied forces and although over two-thirds of those rescued embarked via the harbour, almost 100,000 were taken off the beaches. More than 40,000 vehicles as well as massive amounts of other military equipment and supplies were left behind, their value being less than that of trained fighting men. The British evacuation of Dunkirk through the English Channel was codenamed Operation Dynamo. Forty thousand Allied soldiers (some who carried on fighting after the official evacuation) were captured or forced to make their own way home through a variety of routes including via neutral Spain.

If you are approaching Dunkirk from a desire to see a Saving Private Ryan, then you may want to rethink going to see this film. With little convention in the storytelling, this film puts you on the beach, in the air, or on the sea alongside the civilians, pilots, soldiers, and officers. The focus is not on the characters, special effects, or the bloody atrocities of war, but focussed on highlighting a significant event in WWII history that has largely gone unknown except for those in France and the UK. You are very much like a journalist who is capturing the imagery with your camera. It’s a snapshot of war, not necessarily the story of war. War history buffs, this IS a film for you!

Of Mice and Movies

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Twitter is a’buzz with the latest from the 2017 D23 Expo. Not to be outdone, Facebook, Instagram, and the theme park blogosphere are all but fully consumed with the big announcements for Walt Disney World out of D23 in Anaheim. BIG changes are coming, and will radically modify the existing attraction offerings at Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios (DHS). While there were many announcements, the biggest ones are arguably the detailed look at the new Star Wars Land, the update on Toy Story Land (opening next summer), Ellen’s Energy Adventure (Epcot) getting replaced by Guardians of the Galaxy. Lastly, the final big announcement that will really hit close to home for many who have been going to DHS for a large portion of his or her life–the announcement of the closure of The Great Movie Ride (GMR) to make way for Mickey and Minnie’s first [dark] ride at Walt Disney World. And it’s that last announcement that speaks volumes regarding the direction that the Walt Disney Company is moving.

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