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May 28, 2015

Poltergeist (**) PG-13

It’s taken thirty-three years but finally a Poltergeist remake/reboot has arrived and I really can’t say that movie audiences are going to be the better for it. The new take on Poltergeist has a feeling of staleness that somehow permeates the surroundings, keeping the film from really soaring when it should. That’s surprising when one considers how the original film has pretty much served as the template for all haunted house films that have come and gone in the decades since then. Perhaps it’s just that going down this road so many times has bred familiarity in a way that any attempt at remaking this film would fall flat. Or maybe it’s just because I’ve seen the original, and other films of a similar nature, way too many times over the decades. Whatever the case may be, Poltergeist turns out to be one of those films that isn’t bad enough that one can have fun dumping on it but isn’t really good enough to recommend either.

The plot points from the 1982 original, more or less, are all retained here. Sam Rockwell and Rosemary DeWitt are the parents this time around.

Scene from the remake of Poltergeist

In the original film it’s the Freelings who do battle with the otherworldly spirits. This time around they are the Bowens, respectively Eric and Amy. Eric has been recently fired from his corporate job at John Deere while Amy is a stay at home writer who has yet to write the great American novel. Surprising that the two would have the income on hand to purchase a house like the one featured in the film but that’s a whole other issue, I suppose.

At any rate, it isn’t long before the Bowens discover why the house was so affordable in the first place. It’s because it was built on a former graveyard, a plot point that was revealed late in the original film but is tossed off early in this version as an aside. Next thing you know the Bowens’ son, Griffin, is being chased around the house by a tree while Madison, the youngest child, is sucked into the TV set just like the original film. I suppose you get the point.

Another problem that dogs the film is its unfortunate decision to not appease the audience with the kind of shocking and grotesque visuals that the original film gave us. Everyone remembers the scene where the guy peels his face off in the 1982 version, a scene that certainly helped usher in the PG-13 rating. Here we get very little of that sort, with just a quick shot of the face of Rockwell’s character reflected in a faucet with worms crawling out of his face and nothing more.

The film feels rushed and has very little time to breathe as well. The original film clocked in just shy of two hours while this one clocks in at less than ninety, minus the credits. If the film allowed us a little more time with the characters perhaps we could care more. As it stands, this Poltergeist offers very little to linger in the memory banks.

Tomorrowland (** ½) PG

 We’ve all heard the cliché that people either see the glass as half empty or half full. Well, Tomorrowland is definitely a film for those who see the glass half full. In fact, the final act in Tomorrowland is brimming with such over the top optimism that it somewhat spoils an intriguing opening section that teases more than it actually delivers and becomes a little too much in the process. The film’s message is loaded with lofty progressive ideas that, in a perfect world, would certainly make life a more pleasing experience. Too bad the talent behind the film didn’t temper the film with a little more realism for good measure.

This is the latest film crafted by filmmaker Brad Bird. You may not know the name unless you’re a dyed in the wool movie geek like myself but you’ll certainly know his films—among them, The Incredibles, the fourth Mission Impossible film and Ratatouille.

Hugh Laurie & George Clooney in Tomorrowland

Bird is definitely no slouch when it comes to filmmaking and his list of solid successes from the last decade and a half have obviously afforded him the opportunity to make this film. It’s certainly not the kind of thing that would have been bankrolled otherwise.

The film’s first act is a sort of mystery that keeps the audience guessing for most of the first hour. The film opens with a middle-aged man named Frank Walker (George Clooney) proclaiming ‘when I was a kid the future was different.’ Then the action quickly flashes back to Frank as a kid at the 1964 World’s Fair, trying to interest anyone he can in his invention of a flying jet pack. He finds a taker in Nix (Hugh Laurie), a judge in an inventor’s contest, who quickly introduces Frank to a little girl of a similar age named Athena (Raffey Cassidy). Athena whisks Frank away to what looks like an alternate universe known as Tomorrowland although his stay there is limited for various reasons.

Some years later, in the present day, high school student, Casey (Britt Robertson) also finds herself brought to the world of Tomorrowland, courtesy of a magical coin she chances upon. She soon becomes entranced in this world and through a series of story developments too numerous to mention here, eventually connects with the curmudgeonly, middle-aged Frank in order to pick the man’s brain on the subject of the futuristic world. This is the part of the film where the film started to veer off track for me and never seemed to truly find its groove once again.

Tomorrowland has some great ideas and is visually splendid to behold but it just doesn’t seem to gel. I got the feeling that Brad Bird and company have bitten off more than they can chew and know it. Still, the film has enough of a positive vibe that some viewers may fall for its charms. For me, it’s just a mixed bag. 

Questions or comments? Write Adam at



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