What follows is a recap of the afternoon/evening of last Saturday, May 30th, 2015, in three parts. It will feature two movie reviews and a brief discussion of a live talk given by Ira Glass of PRX and WBEZ Chicago's This American Life.
The Real World
I have been a fan of the real life/news narratives of public radio's This American Life for the better part of a decade. If you haven't listened before, it is this personal, heartfelt, story-driven weekly series of investigative journalism. It comes on NPR on Saturdays, but I think you should just download it to your Podcast app.
Anyway, its host, Ira Glass, came to Knoxville's Tennessee Theatre to do a talk about his show, his vision, his ideas about stories and storytelling and radio and television and the differences in how news is reported.
He made a point at one point that blew my mind, for I had just watched an entertaining family action movie from director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille), the live-action Disney adventure Tomorrowland. The point was that when mainstream news reports on a hot-button issue like CLIMATE CHANGE (AAAAAHHHH!), for example, and how we are destroying the world. We just sort of accept it and move on, no matter which side of the issue we stand on. Those who agree are like, well, I already know all this. And the ones who disagree are like, well, same old crap. Nothing gets changed. We accept our fate, whatever it may be.
During the brief Q and A after the show, a girl got her boyfriend to ask Ira "How he got so brave?" I think Ira honestly didn't get why she asked and it seemed a stupid ass question to my wife and I. He didn't provide a good answer and didn't believe he was brave.
But, to me, in a way, Ira Glass and other modern radio pioneers are brave. They are "dreamers." They are people willing to present the news in a new way, a way that gets people to think and not just resign to a hopeless fate.
This world and other worlds and future worlds depend on that.
Until yesterday, I had never seen any of George Miller's dusty, dystopian Mad Max movies. Of course, like most movie buffs, I saw the trailer for this new one, titled Mad Max: Fury Road, and was already in awe. Twisted metal and gasoline and engines roaring and grotesque warriors and sand and sweat and thirst and a bunch of stuff getting flipped and battered and blown up over this eclectic blend of energized classical music and hard rock guitar and native drums. Then, it came out to great acclaim. Critics lauding it for its seemingly "feminist" stance. Its empowerment of women in such a bleak, man-filled world.
The heart of the story, oddly, doesn't lie in the title character of Max (a role originated in the 1980s by Mel Gibson), played by British actor Tom Hardy. In fact, his role in this film is so limited, I wonder why it's called Mad Max. Not that I'm complaining. His role is to aid Furiosa (an awesome Charlize Theron) in her quest to take a stand against the evil Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) by freeing his captive wives, one of whom is pregnant.
Mad Max: Fury Road is fun to watch. It is a masterpiece of an obvious visionary in George Miller. I was missing too much. I think not seeing the earlier films hurt me here. There is the presence of a message here, a hopeful one of strong characters of good (that I failed to connect with) fighting against evil. But really its just a SLAM! BANG! action picture that is visually breathtaking. I didn't get much more than that out of it. Miller's world is too bleak. It's the sort of bleak Ira Glass was talking about, the sort where a people of a past (maybe us now) gave up and allowed the world to become a barren wasteland of hoarded water and gasoline.
Then, I saw Brad Bird's Tomorrowland. It contains a vision of the future as well. Several visions of two different worlds. One our own. One that could have been, or maybe even could be.
It stars a magical young actress in Britt Robertson as Casey Newton, who dreams big and believes in the future. George Clooney plays Frank Walker, her mentor of sorts, a man who, as a boy in the 1960s, also dreamed big and got a huge treat during the 1964 New York World's Fair. He got a ticket to Tomorrowland, a city built of imagination by the greatest minds of inventors and artists of our history in a parallel universe.
Their adventure begins when Casey, a curious high school student and daughter of a soon-to-be-laid off NASA scientist (Tim McGraw), gets arrested for breaking into Cape Canaveral in attempt to stop its inevitable demolition. Space exploration is dying in our world, a point made also clear in last year's Interstellar. What a travesty when we, as humans, forget our original destiny, that being the drive to explore.
Through a series of the sort of fun-filled action only Brad Bird, a Pixar veteran, can pull off, we fight seamlessly alongside Casey and Frank and the young "robot" Athena to try and save the world. A world resigned to believe that its doomed. A world wear headlines of melting ice shelves and famine and war have little effect. A world that can only be saved by hope-filled people who dream big, dare to be brave, and desire a better life.
So many of the stories we tell in this world show us what we're missing, and it's only the brave dreamers that can truly change the world. Ira does it in the real world. Max and Furiosa will do it if things get too bad. Casey and Frank are doing it right now.
Mad Max: Fury Road ★★★
Tomorrowland ★★★ 1/2