(*homocinematically inclined)

Friday, October 11, 2013

Reverend’s Reviews: Behind the Scenes

I am a proud annual passholder of the Disneyland Resort and get there as often as my schedule allows, even if only for a few hours at a time. As I grow older, though, I realize that not everything there is as happily-ever-after as it appears on the surface. Several news reports and even books have also attested to the malfunctions, accidents and even a few deaths that have occurred over the years between the Magic Kingdoms in California and Florida.

Escape from Tomorrow, Randy Moore’s cheekily bizarre investigation of the darkness he has perceived lurking beneath these family playgrounds’ façades, largely plays like home movies taken during a David Lynch family vacation. It is opening in theaters across the US today. The film was secretly shot, in stunningly clear digital black and white, within the actual Disney parks by cinematographer Lucas Lee Graham and a small army of assistants disguised as everyday tourists. Surprisingly, the notoriously protective Walt Disney Company has refused to take any legal action against the movie since its premiere at January’s Sundance Film Festival. You can bet, though, that they will be beefing up park security to ensure a project like Escape from Tomorrow doesn’t happen again.

In the film, Roy Abramsohn (recognizable to fans of Showtime’s Weeds) plays Jim, an unhappily-married father of two on a Disney vacation with his family. (The parks are actually never named but signage can be seen in some shots and attraction titles are frequently uttered.) Jim learns via a phone call from his boss that he has been laid off, which precipitates a series of odd visions and encounters. These include fanged dolls on the “It’s a Small World” boat ride, a former cast member princess who has become a wicked witch, a pair of nubile European teenagers who seem bent on seducing Jim, and a mad scientist who toils in a lab beneath Epcot’s Spaceship Earth. By film’s end, iconic park structures explode and people, including Jim, begin to succumb to a growing epidemic of mysterious “cat flu.” It’s all enough to make general viewers and not just Disney execs exclaim, “WTF?”

Writer-director Moore, making an attention-grabbing feature film debut, clearly has some things to say about marital and parental relationships, corporate greed, media manipulation and the loss of childhood innocence. He and his movie also cannily exploit the underlying terror to be found in seemingly innocuous, everyday family situations like bath time as well as in bigger concerns like unemployment and infidelity. Some of Moore’s critiques are clearer than others and he tends to over-emphasize the sexual innuendo; it is jarring, even disturbing, to see the young women with whom Jim is obsessed superimposed nude over footage from the “Soarin’ Over California” flight-simulating attraction. Despite the family-friendly settings on display in Escape from Tomorrow, it definitely is not for kids.

Abramsohn and his fellow cast members are commendably all-in when it comes to performing in an environment from which they could have been expelled if their ruse was discovered. Also worth noting is the movie’s terrific orchestral score, complete with a few chipper Disney-esque songs including the portentous “Tomorrow There’s Another You,” which was written free of charge by Golden Globe-nominated composer Abel Korzeniowski (A Single Man, Madonna’s W.E.). Sly and audacious if imperfect, Escape from Tomorrow has the makings of at least a cult hit should it prove too avant garde for mainstream moviegoers.

No one was taken aback by the effort a few years ago to turn Green Day’s bestselling American Idiot album into a Broadway musical than the members of Green Day themselves. The acclaimed punk/alternative rock band, headed by bisexual singer-songwriter Billie Joe Armstrong, had to be won over by the proposed stage adaptation before they would grant permission. Fortunately, Tony Award-winning director Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening) and music producer Tom Kitt (Next to Normal) were able to do so, with electrifying theatrical results.

The vibrant, colorful new documentary Broadway Idiot (now playing in New York and on VOD and opening next Friday in Los Angeles theaters) chronicles the various artists’ journeys as they created the musical. Director Doug Hamilton gained early access backstage thanks to Ira Pittelman, one of the show’s producers who also produced the doc. It provides excellent insight into not only how American Idiot developed but how any Broadway musical is mounted nowadays. Armstrong, who would eventually take on the role of sinister alter ego Saint Jimmy during some performances, also reveals details about his personal progress as a musician (he began singing when he was a mere 4 years old) and as a man. “There are people who like to do things the safe way,” he says,” and that’s just never been part of my vocabulary.”

Perhaps due to Pittelman’s dual involvement, the documentary emphasizes the positive and tends to gloss over any backstage tensions. Still, Broadway Idiot is a fine testament to a great modern musical.

Reverend’s Ratings:
Escape from Tomorrow: B
Broadway Idiot: B+

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

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