This weekend, a few friends and I made the trek down to IFC Center to see the hotly anticipated, and at one point seemingly unreleaseable, Escape From Tomorrow—a science-fictiony, black-and-white, neo-noir movie shot entirely guerilla-style in Disney theme parks without the litigious entertainment empire’s permission. We discovered what many had: that the feature did not entirely live up to its audacious concept.
“People throw the word ‘unfocused’ around a lot,” my wife remarked, “but man.” The group of us kept emailing the next day. “Wow,” we kept saying. Yes, Escape From Tomorrow might have been the indulgent result of watching too muchEraserhead and Pi during late-night bong sessions, but I couldn’t look away, and what I saw I’m still turning over in my mind. The first trick in these sort of situations (I found this worked well for Spring Breakers, too) is to stop worrying about what’s commonly called “plot.” If a director’s not really interested in narrative coherence, why bother seeking it out for yourself? You needn’t roll your eyes at mediocre acting, either—The Room may miss wide enough that you have to make fun of it, but usually there’s no need to MST3K the situation.
Just sit back and enjoy the ride. Because when you get right down to it, whack-job movies like Escape From Tomorrow are the reason movies even exist. The height of the medium isn’t some $300 million superhero flick with cutting-edge digital effects, it’s somebody with not a huge budget and an insane idea who takes huge risks and often fails, but spectacularly so. Do I mind that there was a 17-second “Intermission” about 75% of the way through the running time? Or that the film becomes a misguided La Jetée homage at the last possible minute? Or that the close-ups of the main character’s infected toe serve no real purpose? Of course not—as long as you can walk out calling something “visionary,” you probably got your money’s worth.
About very few cinematic previews can one say “you have to see it to believe it,” but there’s hardly another way to react to the trailer for Escape From Tomorrow, a film that was shot guerilla style at Disney theme parks without even the shadow of permission from that highly litigious entertainment empire. Randy Moore’s black-and-white neo-noir is a tale about a family on a very strange vacation indeed—one that takes them deep into the gruesome underbelly of 24/7 amusement.
“You can’t be happy all the time,” intones one character as the atmospheres of Epcot and roller coaster tunnels and “It’s a Small World After All” are filtered through an aura of pure dread—even a nodding Mickey Mouse mascot is rendered terrifying. The movie should drop on October 11; if we’re lucky, Disney will decide they’re better off ignoring the appropriation of their heavily trademarked images so as not to give Moore and company any free publicity.
Even in that case, we’re willing to bet that tourists carrying camcorders around the Magic Kingdom are in for a bit more scrutiny going forward.
Although Chicago readily and enthusiastically claims Roger Ebert as one of its favorite sons, the late, great film critic spent most of his formative years in the bustling university metropolis of Champaign, Illinois. For years, Champaign has played home to Ebertfest, an annual hometown celebration where he selects several of his favorite under-the-radar films from recent years to be screened for the locals at the historic Virginia Theatre. And although this is the first Ebertfest without the man, the show will go on as planned.
If you live in Champaign by some chance, or Chicago, or some other Midwestern city within easy driving distance and by the grace of God the weather isn’t abysmal where you are, you may want to get yourself in your car or on a bus or something and spend an afternoon at the movies. The remaining festival schedule includes Tilda Swinton in Julia tonight, the brilliant guru-skewering doc Kumare tomorrow, Randy Moore’s guerrilla-Disney film Escape From Tomorrow, and James Ponsoldt’s teens-in-love story The Spectacular Now. It’s a nice mix of fare, and after the week we’ve all had, it might be nice to escape to the movies for a while, don’t you think?