In the near 40 years I’ve existed on this planet (Oh man, it’s sobering to see THAT in print), and in the 30+ years as a somewhat hardcore Movie Nerd, I’ve never taken in a flick at one of those former Staples of Summer: The Drive-In Movie Theatre. My folks claim that they may have once taken my sister and I to one, WAY back through The Mists of Time…but I sure as hell don’t remember. In the last while, one of the ‘To Do’ things on the ongoing, frequently-mutating list my girlfriend and I sorta keep, was to hit up a multi-flick screening one night at the local out-door cinema; a short drive from our humble abode.
So, outta the blue, it was decided that THIS weekend would the The Weekend to pop my drive-in theatre cherry! We opted for this particular Saturday night because the Triple Bill showing was ‘Inside Out’ at 9:45 pm, followed by ‘Tomorrowland’ at 11:30 pm, and finally closed out by ‘Aloha’, at something ridiculous like 1:45 am. 1:45 am for a movie start time?! That’s…just…weird.
Being that we were both intrigued by ‘Inside Out’ (Pixar is ALMOST always welcome in our home.), and I was morbidly curious about ‘Tomorrowland’, due largely to it’s ‘Box Office Crash and Burn’, it just seemed like the right time. I couldn’t give a shit about ‘Aloha’ and my lady more or less dismissed the lambasted Cameron Crowe rom-com outright. So it would be a Two-Flick night for us kids!!
SO…it seems that there’s a whole tradition to the Drive-In concept, complete with strange rituals. Like honking your horn excitedly when the crudely animated hot-dog bun flirtatiously entices a trick-performing (and phallic) wiener to leap into it’s/her vagina-like embrace, during the ‘Let’s Go To The Lobby…and Get Ourselves a Treat’ intermission reel, from 1950-something…weird, hilarious shit! Once we drove in and parked (2nd row back from the screen, far left side), I had time to crane my head around and see what’s what.
It made me think of a singularly-focused festival of some note, as many people had turned their various vehicles ass-backward and were chilling in flat-beds, trunks and cargo spaces; all eyeballs pointed in the same direction. There were camping chairs scattered everywhere and surprisingly well-behaved kids darting in and out among the filed cars. Could’ve done without the goddamn smokers nearby, but I guess that’s part of the price of a movie experience under the summer stars. I was initially skeptical when the pre-show ‘reel’ was playing…it was SO dim!! Granted, the sun hadn’t fully vanished, as there was still a brush-stroke of orange on the horizon. I will say that I half-expected a muddy farmer’s field, with a few decrepit out-houses lingering on the outskirts, that showed the movies on a tarp nailed to the side of a barn, but I can readily admit that the facilities were surprisingly ‘tight’, clean and more-or-less professional. Expensive as hell (no wonder peeps sneak their own food in!), but with a better, more varied selection than I expected. So far, so good.
SO, after we’d acquainted ourselves with the local salle-de-bain, we settled in for the show (sandals off, nibblies out etc). It’s weird, being used to a decent 5.1 Surround Sound set-up, to have to use a car’s radio to hear a flick but, aside from a slightly scratchy speaker on my side (the passenger side), it sounded passable…maybe even…’Ok’. I have to admit that they set the start-time well, in conjunction with the setting of the bright orb of burning cosmic gas we call the Sun. As the 7 minute Pixar short flick ‘Lava’ (Meh…as Pixar goes.) was wrapping up, the lighting fell into place…and the movie rolled.

Inside Out (2015)

As I’ve mentioned in multiple reviews, I generally have faith in Pixar to deliver a solidly entertaining and clever story that ‘speaks’ to both The Young and The Not-So Young equally, albiet in different ways. Couple that with their penchant for top-notch, story-appropriate and stylized animation, and you usually get a Good Time…usually. When I first heard the initial premise for ‘Inside Out’, I was intrigued as to how they planned to pull it off. Then it released…and the praise just flooded in. People seemed to LOVE this movie! So, the last time the critics went ape-shit over a title (‘Mad Max: Fury Road’), I was rewarded with a cinematic experience that has since become 95% unanimously ‘in-favor of’, with critics across the board. The fact that EVERYONE and their dog seemed to dig THIS movie had me all the more curious about the admirably abstract concept.
The flick follows a young girl, on the cusp of her teens, named ‘Riley’ (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias) who’s parents (voiced by Kyle MacLachlan and Diane Lane), have made the difficult choice to relocate from Minnesota to San Francisco. As ‘Riley’ tries to navigate through her inconvenient ‘uprooting’, she also has to contend with a new, inner-city high school and all the bullshit that goes with it. This is also coupled with the very first glimmers of inconveniently-timed hormonal change. As they establish “Riley’ and her family dynamic, we are introduced to the personifications of ‘Riley’s 5 Main Emotions, in the Control Room of the girl’s mind. In the 1960-s science fiction-inspired HEADquarters of ‘Riley’, we are introduced to ‘Joy’ (Amy Poehler), ‘Sadness’ (Phyliss Smith), ‘Disgust’ (Mindy Kaling), ‘Anger’ (Lewis Black) and ‘Fear’ (Bill Hader). The ’emotions’ try to maintain a balance in ‘Riley’, with ‘Joy’ being the apparent ‘default’ program. Everything gets thrown into a tizzy when circumstances beyond ‘Riley’s control push her coping mechanisms to the breaking point, splintering her HEADquarters and leaving ‘Joy’ and “Sadness’ lost, forcing them to navigate through the inner recesses of the girl’s mind; while the others have to struggle to keep an even keel in their absence.
‘Inside Out’ is good, in all the ways we’ve come to expect from Pixar. But…it’s not great. I wish that I could froth at the mouth about it the way SO many other critics have recently…but I can’t. It may actually be my own fault. By letting too much of the ‘buzz’ in ahead of time (something I actively try NOT to do), I may have unfairly set my expectations too high, because when the credits rolled, both my girlfriend and I looked at each other, from our reclined car seats, and remarked that neither of us found it to be especially mind-blowing. It was certainly enjoyable, being cleverly written, well-acted (voice-wise) with a relatable ‘heart’, and a world-design that serviced the nicely-pondered narrative…but I wasn’t enthralled with it the way I was with previous Pixar titles. Now, this could very much be due to the new viewing circumstances I was in at the time, but I wasn’t effortlessly dragged into the story. I watched it…I enjoyed it…I acknowledge the creativity…but I didn’t ‘feel’ it. It has a very positive message and a nice depth of insight, but it could be that the abstract nature of the plot held me at arms length. Still…as ‘First Ever Drive In Theatre Movies’ go, we could’ve done a lot worse.

(Credits Roll)

So, as the intermission began (10 minutes of dancing, animated food, suggestive hotdog included…HONK! HONK!), as if cued, a number of nearby cars suddenly fired up…and people began to leave. After watching a movie, in the darkness of near-midnight, sudden car headlights are like a friggin supernova, especially when it’s from the vehicle immediately to our 6 o’clock position, straight into the side-view mirror next to me! (“I’m blind!!!” – claws frantically at eyes, in pain). As soon as this short Exodus of vehicles had purred off into the distance, a zombie-shuffle of people began slouching through the dark to the concession and bathrooms, undoubtedly persuaded by the creepy animation of dancing junk food that loomed nearby. After a 10 minute countdown, Movie #2 flickered to life.

Tomorrowland (2015)

It figures that this one would follow a Pixar movie, what with director Brad Bird’s successful history with the animation giant (‘The Incredibles’ (2004) and ‘Ratatouille’ (2007)). It’s just too bad that THIS flick won’t have the word ‘successful’ attached to it anytime soon. Bird is a competent director, something that he has proven numerous times before, but here it just doesn’t come together. I’m fully prepared to heap a shit-load of the blame for this flick’s short-comings at the feet of co-writer Damon Lindelof (‘Lost’), especially since I have something of a personal vendetta lurking within over what he did to John Spaiht’s original ‘Prometheus’ script. Burn in hell for THAT one, Lindelof!! His shitty faux-ambiguous style of ‘script-writing’ (if you want to call it THAT) is all over this story, and is a clear reason for the surprisingly piss-poor reception this one encountered on release.
The story follows a teenager named ‘Casey’ (Britt Robertson) as she’s deflected from her nocturnal pass-time of industrial sabotage (she’s trying to stop the demolition of the retired launch facility at Cape Canaveral, over-seen by her own engineer father ‘Eddie’ (Tim MacGraw), by the abrupt appearance of a mysterious pin. Upon touching the ‘T’ shaped piece of metal, ‘Casey’ finds herself instantly transported to a parallel universe; a universe dominated by a vast, retro-futuristic city called ‘Tomorrowland’. As ‘Casey’ delves deeper into the mystery that is ‘Tomorrowland’, she comes into contact with a mysterious and powerful young girl named ‘Athena’ (Raffey Cassidy). ‘Athena’, in rather short order, proves to be a force-to-be-reckoned with, in fending off attacks from a mysterious group of eerily smiling ‘men-in-black’. It becomes apparent that ‘Athena’s more than just human…or maybe less, depending how you look at her situation.
These two characters then venture out to locate a former resident of ‘Tomorrowland’ named ‘Frank’ (George Clooney). It seems that ‘Frank’ was lured to the techno-wonder metropolis by ‘Athena’, back in the 1960’s, and played a vital hand in introducing rocket-pack technology to the idealized World of the Future(!) Somewhere along the way, he screwed up and was asked to leave. Now, he’s a bitter old recluse who’s outfitted his home with a number of high-tech security measures and doesn’t want anything to do with ‘Casey’s quest. He’s yanked into it when the robotic ‘men in black’ show up to capture them all. Frank’s house is shot full of 1950’s ray-gun blast holes, and he and Casey barely escape in a rocket-launched bathtub. Yes, you read that correctly. From there, they embark on their fantastical journey; a journey fraught with muddy, exposition-heavy dialogue, choppy pacing, a WAY too obvious ‘heavy message’ (which I agree with, but still!), and numerous details that seemed to be deliberately left overly-vague or half-cooked (Looking at you again, Lindelof!).
The first half of the flick is solid. I was intrigued by what was happening, while enjoying the imaginative elements and designs. But right around the mid-way point, something inside my mind disengaged from the narrative. It ‘had’ me at first…then it ‘lost’ me. I really can’t pinpoint any one scene or moment that caused the ‘shutdown’, but it most certainly did happen. Now, I’m realistic and this could’ve been the result of it being around 1am by this point, after a full day…but more than once, I found myself staring up through the open sun-roof and pondering the twinkling stars above (no bullshit), as opposed to investing in what was then happening onscreen. Which is unfortunate because a lot of hard work seems to have gone into this movie (the financial failure of which has apparently cost Disney something in the scary neighborhood of $100 000 000.00 USD…Ouch!). The production design and cinematography are great and there are clever ideas scattered throughout in the story.
The acting is solid, but I did think that the ‘Frank’ character could’ve been played by anyone. I think Clooney is a dedicated and charismatic actor, but here he really didn’t bring anything truly unique to the role. He scowled and yelled a lot, but didn’t really ‘flesh’ out ‘Frank’.
All in all, ‘Tomorrowland’ is an ambitious, easy-on-the-eyes failure for Disney. It’s got a lot going for it and I do think that it may pick-up some steam as a potential sci-fi ‘cult film gem’…that just happened to have tripped spectacularly on it’s way off the Starting Line. Maybe we’ll see a Director’s Cut where Bird goes back and tightens up the narrative and keeps the momentum of the story moving, Toning down the overly sentimental ‘reasoning’ of the 3rd Act might not hurt either. I can’t really recommend this movie for The Big Screen (despite some nifty visuals), but I think that on Netflix or VoD, you could do a helluva lot worse. It’s not a TERRIBLE movie…but it’s not a GREAT one either.

(Credits roll)

And with that, we stiffly got our shit together, and slowly joined Vehicle Exodus #2 as it snaked through the flickering glow of the end credits. My eyelids were already threatening to slide to home-plate and there was NO WAY IN HELL I was going to fight the fatigue that threatened to bludgeon me into unconsciousness for a (by all accounts) Cameron Crowe rom-com failure, till 4 am! So, kiss my ass, ‘Aloha’! Amazingly, we could make out the huddled shapes of people settling back in for Movie #3, as we drifted past them in the dark. Crazy bastards!
However, there is something cool to be said for Drive-Ins and the cinematic experience they provide. It’ll be a shame when they eventually disappear because the concept lends it’s own flavor to the whole ‘fabric’ of ‘movie-going’. And let’s be realistic, it’s a dying breed, the open-air cinema. But now that I’ve seen it first-hand I think, in the right circumstance and for the right movie(s), that I’ll be back. There’s just…’something’ about cozying up in your own car, with a tasty collection of smuggled treats and someone special, to watch something entertainingly mindless and to indulge in the muted festival atmosphere till the wee hours of the morning; all the while lorded over by a MASSIVE, glowing movie screen. I don’t know what that ‘something is…but I kinda like it.

I’ll be back.