Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Moonlight Movie Reviews - Escape from Tomorrow

We're back from another unexpected hiatus with something really, really interesting...

Are you ready for this? Okay, before I get started, let me say that this review is NOT going to be the same as most of the others I've been reading about this film. Not at all. In fact, in this review I'm going to venture to point out that everyone else reviewing this movie seems to have it all wrong. They believe it's a gimmicky arthouse film trying to make Disney look like an evil corporation and trying to be a deeply psychological horror film with a thousand hidden meanings, but so incoherent that it is just a big mess. At least, that's been the attitude of most of the reviews I've read and watched on "Escape from Tomorrow" so far.

I'm sure not all the reviews are bad, but I really think people have the wrong impression of this film. I believe this movie is simply a dark comedy that went with an arthouse feel mainly to deal with the budget and difficulties of filming guerrilla style in the actual Disney theme parks without their permission, against Disney's rather heavy security no less. It's not about Disney being evil, it's about the fact that even when you're at the place you think is safest, you can't escape the fact that bad things happen. This is why some critics are wrong when they say this film could have been set anywhere, and setting it at Disney is just a gimmick. The idea is that Disney is the "happiest place on Earth", but even there, bad things happen. As for the arthouse style of the film, in the Blu-Ray commentary, the filmmakers point out that the reason they shot it in black and white had more to do with practicality than being artistic. When doing a pick up shot on a theme park ride, you can't always get the same color car you had before.

Basically, think of "Escape from Tomorrow" as "National Lampoon's Vacation" meets "Donnie Darko" in black and white and much more rough around the edges, with some "Stepford Wives" thrown in. That's exactly what this film is, and I think that's all it was trying to be. Not that it has no meaning to the filmmakers and not that it isn't trying to make little comments about this and that here and there, but when it does do such things, I think it's pretty blunt about them. This film is just a much darker, sci-fi-ish, indie version of a Lampoon's Vacation movie with an arthouse look to make the low budget and primitive techniques more acceptable. It's a scary fantasy that is mostly about the lead character's dissatisfaction with his own life (and a very bizarre day he seems to be having) and the fact that there is no sanctuary from the bad things that happen to us daily, rather than about painting the Disney company badly, which it really doesn't do much of. People go into this film expecting it to be "Supersize Me", expecting it to be some sort of documentary or mockumentary on how Disney is an evil corporation, and I see some reviewers are still running with this idea, which puzzles me. After seeing this one, especially if you take the time to watch it twice, I don't see how you would still be thinking of it as that sort of film. But, I've gotten waaaaay ahead of myself, ha. I've practically given my review of it already, but I was just trying to set things up. I intend to go into further detail, but I'll start with a synopsis. Be prepared for spoilers though. I'm not sure how I can do a decent job with this particular movie otherwise.

Before the synopsis, let me repeat, in case you have never heard of this film, that it got a lot of attention when it came out on the festival circuit due to the fact that it was shot largely at the Disney theme parks in secret, with no one's permission. Original music from the parks has been replaced, but it's all done quite well. It seemed unlikely that such a film was possible (I vaguely remember hearing about it somewhere, maybe on the news or something), but they completed it, and it seemed unlikely that such a movie would be allowed to be viewed by the public by the Disney corporation; that their team of lawyers would snuff it out immediately. However, they have gone with a policy of ignoring it to keep from drawing more attention to it, and just yesterday, the film got a DVD release, as well as a Best Buy exclusive Blu-Ray release through July 28 (at which point, I guess the Blu-Ray might not be a BB exclusive anymore? I'm really not sure what the end date means). Incidentally, I got my copy of the Blu-Ray at Best Buy yesterday afternoon, and it was the only copy they had. I don't know if they just didn't make/receive many or if they are flying off the shelves. Likely the former. Anyway, due to the strange circumstances this was filmed under, it is naturally a really fascinating film oddity. Most people talking about this film are saying it is worth viewing just for it's "secretly shot at Disney World" gimmick, and certainly, that is a fascinating thing about this film, but I disagree with those who say the film itself isn't good. I wasn't sure what to think of it after my first viewing. After the second, I thought it was pretty darn great! I think most people just don't know what to make of it or just have the wrong ideas, as I said.

Now, "Escape from Tomorrow" is mostly the story of one man, Jim White, a discontent 40-something father of two small children, with a nagging, brow-beating wife, and on his final day of a family trip to Walt Disney World, no more means to support this perfect little family of his. Yes, he has an asshole boss who called up to fire him on the last day of his vacation, taking the time during the phone call to recommend Jim take his kids on the attraction "Soarin'" before his trip is over. This is the last thing Jim needs. To add insult to injury, as he is out on the balcony taking this horrid phone call, his small son, Elliot, locks him out of their hotel room. The kid really doesn't seem to like his daddy very much, or maybe he just doesn't wanna share mommy. Jim gives his wife, Emily, a wake-up call, and soon the family of four (smaller child Sara being the fourth) is heading down the hallway towards the monorail to the Magic Kingdom and their final day at the Disney parks.

In line for the monorail is a familiar site. People coughing and sneezing, and making Jim darn uncomfortable about being in the usual vacation herd. The family boards the transportation vehicle along with two teenage French girls with playful attitudes and skimpy outfits that catch the eyes of both Jim and little Elliot.

Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! What?!!!!

Okay, hold up while we get into something here. A LOT of people have a problem with this aspect of the movie, because it is a big part of the plot, if you agree with me that there is one. See, for quite a while after this point, Jim roams the park with one kid or another in tow (having managed to get away from the wife most of the time), pursuing these two flirtatious French girls relentlessly. In truth, it's something he does for almost the rest of the movie. This is something that, at least in the U.S., is totally disgusting to a large section of the film-viewing audience (though I think about half of that group is faking it). And, frankly, it's a bit ridiculous the big deal people make about it. Don't get me wrong, it's detestable for someone to pursue teenage girls like this when they are a married man, let alone on a vacation at Disney World with their small children. And, it's just plain stupid to be doing this when one of the girls appears to be underage (though the other looked more like 20-something, no matter what everyone else is saying). BUT... here's why I have more of a problem with the people who have commented angrily about this than I do with the film for doing it (and I have no actual problem with the film for doing it)...

Basically, people who dislike this movie seem to dislike it either because they don't understand it, because they think it's an attack on Disney, or because of the lead character becoming obsessed with these two teen girls and following them all over the park (though, to be honest, I think the other two types dwell on this too as a means to attack the film). Now, I agree, his pursuit of them is absurd. I mean, most guys would just look, and you'd especially hope a married guy would have the sense to try not even to do that. Though, I guess some husbands do this sort of thing, and that's sad. But the angry statements I've read about this aspect of the film I find far more upsetting. People are totally losing it, writing reviews on places like Amazon, screeching not to watch this movie unless you want to see a pedo (I call this the P-word, because it's so often used inaccurately) stalking little girls at Disney World, blah, blah, blah. How difficult must it be for these people to find inoffensive movies? They'd have to rip their eyes out if they ever saw "Lolita", ha! Seriously though, I find this so annoying. It's just a movie! And one of those girls does not really look underage! The other one does, I'll grant you that. Though I have known legal age girls who looked that young, especially with braces. Heck, there are fully legal porn industry professionals who look that young. *cough*  Amai Liu  *cough*

 See, putting the movie aside for a sec, when it comes to the whole underage thing, folks in the U.S. can be a little nutty, which is dangerous since it is a subject taken so very seriously here. There's this belief that when you turn 18, you are magically an adult (though not adult enough to drink, just adult enough to die for your country and make porn movies). It's the legal setting (though that can be different in some states for some things), and so it must be adhered to, but the extreme brainwashing it has led to is what is so upsetting. People have come to believe that it is some sort of magical birthday, because it's totally acceptable here to lust after an 18 year old, but if you even comment on someone even a day younger, you could be demonized with the completely inaccurate P-word, while the media that supports this brainwashing still sexualizes even younger teens like crazy on television and in other media daily. Our country is insanely hypocritical on this topic. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not at all condoning the lead character's behavior in this film. I just wish the masses could act a little less ignorant and sheepish. A: 18 is not a magic age. Your under-18 teenagers are not as innocent as you are pretending, and a good percentage of teen girls are physically indistinguishable from girls in their early to mid 20's, so quit assuming everyone should magically know how old they are or find them completely unattractive until their magic birthday. B: The P-word by definition does not apply when someone finds a teenager attractive, legal or not, so don't spread such ignorance. Yes, actively pursuing someone underage is a no-no, but an attractive girl with a nice figure is an attractive girl with a nice figure, and it's only normal to think so, whether your type is curvaceous or skinny (and it's really hard to guess age when you dig skinny girls), or anything in-between. After puberty has hit, it can be really hard to tell if a girl is legal or not. And being 40-something doesn't automatically make you naturally more attracted to other tired looking old 40-somethings rather than girls in their physical prime. Which leads to C: Yes, almost every straight guy in Disney World is ogling the teens in short shorts, not just the odd, random pervert. Scantily clad teen and twenty-something girls are everywhere at Disney, they are often gorgeous, and we have no idea which are legal and which are not! Of course we are drooling as they pass! Sometimes, they travel in packs on trips from other countries (most of us park-goers know about the Brazil girls that visit Disney, which the director even mentions in his commentary, as he originally intended to cast Brazilians instead of French girls because of this). Teen girls at Disney often dress quite shamelessly, to be honest, and even the guys who say they aren't ogling them are. I have this on pretty good authority, folks, and I commend Randy Moore for not shying away from this fact about guys everywhere, but especially at theme parks, where young women tend to dress the skimpiest. It's in the film because it's a thing guys do. The active pursuit by the lead character is where it gets weird and unusual. And, yeah, the one he focused on. That one... the odds were against that one being legal. So, even though you can never be sure without seeing some I.D., most guys that much older would have the sense not to attempt an approach on that one, admittedly.

So, yeah, I'm not condoning the lead character's actions, I'm just saying, damn, audience, stop making such a big deal that a guy would even be attracted to these girls! Is Jim White a creep for finding them attractive? No, nor is he the P-word. These aren't prepubescents. He's a creep because he's a married man, and he's an idiot for trying to talk to them since one of them is more than likely underage, but that's about it. It doesn't make this character Satan. I don't approve of the attempt to cheat on the wife, but SPOILER ALERT, in the end we find he wouldn't have taken it that far anyway. And besides that, other people seem to miss that there are other factors in play here. For one, he got fired that morning, while simultaneously being under a heck of a lot of stress, because a trip to Disney with very small children would put one under a heck of a lot of stress. Especially if you're this standard type of guy who isn't really into the Disney stuff. But, besides that, there's the mysterious cat flu, which I'll get to in a minute... Not to mention his wife does not treat him well at all, leaving him extremely sexually frustrated and just plain frustrated in general. We can excuse Chevy Chase for attempted adultery on family vacations in the context of a comedy film, but not a guy in an indie film that has the nerve to defy Disney, no matter how much crap he's going through that may be affecting his ability to make rational choices.... Now, I'm not saying any of this would be an excuse if he had cheated on his wife, but the only time he actually does in this movie, it appears he may not have done it by choice... So, no, I did not have the huge problem getting behind the character of Jim White that so many other people have. He may not be the sharpest tool in the box, but I still think he works as the lead in a film of this nature. He's believable as an every-man dad and he's funny and entertaining, even if not to the extent of the charmingly goofy Clark Griswold.


Getting back to the story... like I said, Dad spends a good chunk of time following these girls around with his son. He goes on Space Mountain just because the girls did, and this makes his son puke and makes them both late to meet up with the wife and daughter, so Jim gets in trouble (as usual). Emily takes Elliot back to the hotel room while Jim continues his pursuit with daughter in tow as they visit the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse and Tom Sawyer Island. Oh, I should mention also that earlier, while riding It's a Small World, Jim had hallucinations. Was it the stress of losing his job and being brow-beaten by his wife and kids? Was it the Florida heat? Was it real? Or was it something else?

 Anyway, on Tom Sawyer Island, a wheel-chair bound man (took me a while to be sure it was a man) has a bully of a son that knocks little Sara down and causes her to scrape her knee. This leads to a visit to the park nurse. Okay, frankly, I didn't know theme parks had nurses, but I guess it makes sense. Who goes to a nurse for a scraped knee though? Man, when I was a kid we'd wash that sh** off and get back to work! Well, while at the nurse, who is clearly on the verge of a nervous breakdown herself, she informs them that something called the Cat Flu is going around like crazy. It appears to be pretty serious.

Soon after, father and daughter are back exploring the park. Actually, Jim is on a bench with a turkey leg while Sara plays in front of him with a boy she has befriended. The boy's mother sits on the bench beside Jim and informs him that the turkey legs are really made of Emu. She is a really strange woman with an odd necklace who seems to be putting the moves on a pretty uninterested Jim. The necklace she wears has a sparkling amulet that Jim can't stop looking at, and this seems to lead to him blacking out, because he wakes up tied to a bed in the middle of having sex with the strange woman in her hotel room. Jim is clearly freaked out and doesn't know how he got there. When they are finished, she unties him and he gets out in a hurry, but not before she tells him about how the park princesses are really Disney prostitutes for rich Asian businessmen.

Jim escapes the woman's hotel room with Sara, who was asleep on a couch outside the bedroom, and they head back to their own hotel, where Jim and Sara join Emily and Elliot in the pool. Jim gives Emily a souvenir she had wanted, but it was the wrong one (Dumbo instead of Minnie), resulting in another verbal lashing. He notices the French girls are in the pool, attempts to talk to them, and is busted by his wife. Another really dumb Jim meets the French girls moment, but he seems to have no sense when these girls are around. His wife insists it is now time to go to EPCOT, confusing Jim, since they had only just gotten to the pool. But, she's the boss, so off they go.

EPCOT is where everything finally pops. Jim gets his drink on, which leads to him getting sick on the Mexican boatride and just acting like an ass the whole night. He is still seeing hallucinations, including princesses getting fondled by rich Asian businessmen, and he is still eyeballing the French duo that seems to be everywhere the family goes. And, oddly enough, Emily gets her own demonic face sighting too, and it's on the face of one of the French girls no less! As tensions rise, Emily finally explodes at Jim about how weird he's been acting all day, and especially about the French girls. Jim confesses about losing his job, but this just makes Emily madder. Sara is simultaneously throwing a tantrum, which causes Emily to let her anger out on Sara's face. She again takes their son and leaves (this family really seems to be divided into teams), while Jim stays at EPCOT with Sara and takes her to ride Soarin'. While on the virtual hang gliding ride, Jim hallucinates a naked woman on the screen in front of them who declares he will be hers soon. This pleases drunken Jim. Afterwards, he and Sara encounter the French girls again, who have been accompanied by a pair of teenage boys ever since the pool. The younger girl approaches them, kisses Sara on the cheeks, takes her hand and walks off with Jim. This is a hallucination though. We then see the girl asking Jim to join her group. Sara is nowhere to be seen. Jim wants to join them, but says he can't. The French girl says she's sorry then, because something bad will happen, and she spits in his face. As with many of the odd occurrences in the film so far, it is unclear just how much of this is hallucination and how much of it is real, because Jim's hallucinations have been getting worse gradually. 

After this odd encounter, Jim realizes he's lost Sara and goes into a panic searching for her. Park security then moves in and apprehends him, knocking him unconscious. The word Intermission appears on the screen briefly, though the film returns right after to find Jim in a secret location in the bottom of Spaceship Earth, the giant geosphere that is the symbol of EPCOT. There, Jim is strapped in a chair as a mini, mindreading geosphere forms around Jim's head while what seems to be a scientist who claims to work for the Siemens corporation discusses his imagination, comparing it to Walt Disney's, and talks about how Jim messed up a plan to help him that his boss was in on too (and presumably the French girls). On a screen in front of him, Jim sees a man who looks like himself with the woman from the Soarin' film and a child, and the scientist declares to Jim, "That is the real you," the one from his imagination. When the scientist leaves the room, Jim freaks out and gets loose, he decapitates the scientist, who turns out to be a robot, and, discovering he has the room key of the woman he had sex with earlier in his pocket, realizes he should look for Sara there. He does so, and he finds her with the crazy woman, who is acting out Snow White with Sara, in full costume, the strange woman playing the Evil Queen. Jim rescues Sara, though he is only able to leave when Sara destroys the woman's amulet necklace, and they return to their own hotel room, where Jim puts her to bed. 

(I predict this will be a popular Halloween costume this year!)

In the bathroom, Jim becomes gravely ill. He has nightmarish diarrhea and begins to cough up hairballs into the toilet. He realizes he has come down with the Cat Flu. Elliot sees his father sick in the bathroom, but instead of helping, closes the door on him. The next morning, Emily finds John dead beside a bloody toilet, his eyes turned to cat's eyes and a cheshire-like grin on his face. A team of Disney clean-up men rush in and take the body away, meticulously cleaning the place. The leader approaches Elliot and implants a memory into his mind of riding the Buzz Lightyear ride, a ride he had wanted to go on with his father but didn't get to when it was shut down just before their turn. He gives Elliot a Buzz pin, and they leave with Jim's body. Outside, as the body is being loaded up, Another vehicle pulls up in front of the hotel. Out of it step the family that was shown to Jim before in the room under Spaceship Earth: The woman from Soarin', the man that looks exactly like Jim, and their kids, all a much happier family than Jim's was.

And that's the end.

Yep, "Escape from Tomorrow" is quite a movie. And it left almost everyone I've heard from saying, "It makes no sense! It's just attacking Disney! This guy's just a pervert and the movie makes no sense!" Honestly, I don't know why everyone's so confused and upset.

Oh, of course, they do all say to go see it because it was filmed secretly at the Disney Parks. And, yes, you SHOULD see it for that reason, but it's also a really neat little movie! The acting varies, but it's pretty good, and Roy Abramsohn does a pretty great job with Jim. No, he's not the most likable character in the world, but he's not all that bad, either. Roy plays him dimwitted and desperate enough to make at least some of us sympathetic with his plight. Most people chalk that up to a midlife crisis and a lot of artsy nonsense that is symbolic and makes no sense. I gotta disagree with that! Honestly, this movie makes perfect sense!

That does not mean everything is explained. Hardly anything is, and yet, it all is. It's kinda brilliant when you think about it, really. If you aren't taking this movie too seriously, and I don't think it was meant to be, it is a fun little sci-fi film. I'm not sure if I would call it horror, but maybe to some degree it IS sci-fi/horror/fantasy. But, yeah, it is largely open to interpretation too, as far as what really happened. That's the thing, most of the weird stuff in this film could all be hallucinated. I believe some of it was. I believe some of it really happened. But, in many cases, it's up to the viewer on which of those is the truth. Here's what I like to think though, personally.

Cat Flu is a major player, but not on its own. 

 It's possible that everything was just the result of the Cat Flu, yes. And when the wife had her hallucination, I feel like that was her starting to get it too. But, one thing Cat Flu can't explain is the ending scene with the new Jim and family.

 Due to that bit at the end, I interpret it as this: The Cat Flu was real, yes, but so were most of the other things, just not the demon faces and a few other tidbits, some that were clearly revealed to not be real. The important thing here is that the Siemens guy was real. As he explained, Jim's boss had tried to get him over to Soarin', where Jim saw the image of the girl he eventually (after death) ended up with. He was supposed to go with the teenagers, but since he refused, they had to do things the hard way. She spit on him. One can assume this was Cat Flu. Either he was just drunk and having a breakdown before, or he already had Cat Flu and this just made it much worse, killing him that night. Bottom line, it seems this was all a plan to change Jim's life for one he actually wanted. One where he was happy with a family that loved him. Somehow, this was accomplished in the end. Did he really die? Did they transfer his brain to a new body? It seems to me they reincarnated him somehow. Something else that hints there was some real sci-fi stuff going on here was the scene with Elliot and the clean-up man giving him a new memory or something, and that seemed to be real too, so I'm constantly getting more convinced of this theory.

And, if my theory is true, then what doesn't make sense in this film? It was about a miserable guy and a conspiracy that had to make things really bad for him before they could fix them. The tagline reads, "Bad things happen everywhere," even in the happiest place on Earth. I know that was a theme of this, but it also seems it was supposed to be a happy ending for Jim after all. Either that, or the ending bit meant nothing and everything else was Cat Flu hallucination, which works for me either way. Bottom line, I'm going with that. Cat Flu as part of a conspiracy to get Jim his new life. Off the top of my head, that just leaves the question of the mysterious witch woman. Now, maybe he imagined his two hotel room encounters with her too, but I don't think so. I think that was another added element of fantasy for the plot. Again, "Bad Things Happen Everywhere," is the tagline. I think Jim was just having a really bad day. But, maybe not. A lot of theories could be made. She could easily be working for Siemens too. The second time, she was clearly taking care of Sara for them while they worked on Jim.

Well, it's really late and I'm about to fall asleep, so let me wrap this up. Bottom line, this movie does make sense, it's just that the movie is partly about hallucinations, and it is not flat out stated what is real and what isn't. That's actually kinda cool. It's annoying, yeah, but it's cool too. This movie requires you to think, and that's kinda fun! Yeah, it would be nice to know what happened, but (and this might be the first time I feel this way) it's kinda nice to be able to dictate what happened yourself, too! I like to think things worked out well for ol' Jim, he just forced them to do it the hard way, whatever it was they did. "Escape from Tomorrow" is a fascinating, thought provoking, and highly entertaining movie. It's an amazing technical achievement, but it's also a great film to just watch and try to figure out! I watched it 3 times the first night I bought it, though I gotta admit, two of those were with commentaries, because, yeah, I was hoping they'd drop some clues on me. They did not. But, more on that in a minute. As for the film, I still say that, for the most part, it's not meant to be an artsy fartsy, interpret everything in the darkest way possible kinda movie, ha. I think it's just a sci-fi fantasy that looks pretentious completely by chance. I look forward to watching it again and again and showing it to guests.

The movie is said to have come out on DVD and Blu-Ray on Tuesday. As I said, I bought the Blu-Ray, a Best Buy exclusive. Didn't see the DVD there and got the only copy of the Blu they had left. I was psyched to get it, because I honestly don't know how long this film will be available. It's very cool and comes with some nice bonus features as well. There's a poster gallery, the trailer, a cool "Making Of" video, and most notable, two audio commentaries. One is legit and features the director and the cinematographer, the other features the film's mom and dad, Emily and Jim, played by Elena Schuber and Roy Abramsohn. And, yes, by that, I mean they do the commentary in character, as a husband and wife who have discovered this DVD of their trip to Florida. It is hilarious. It's purely for fun, and it is tons of fun. I worried it would just be a lot of bickering, but that was really kept to a minimum! And it is so much more interesting than the other commentary. The other is worth watching, but I'll go with the actors' in-character commentary over that one any day. The director/cinematographer commentary is only informative in regards to the technical aspects of making the film. Some of it is quite interesting, I mean, we're talking about a guerrilla film shot at Disneyland and Disney World! But, it offered no truths about the film's story, still leaving it all up to the viewer.

And, that's all I got for tonight, guys! "Escape from Tomorrow". I DO recommend checking it out AT LEAST. Especially if you've been to the Disney parks. If you can though, get yourself a copy of your own. Who knows how long these will be around!

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