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Escape From Tomorrow Review: Surrealism And Sex in Disneyland
At a certain point, it doesn’t really matter how good Escape From Tomorrow is. Shot primarily in Disneyland and Disneyworld–without any permits, permission, or regard for hiding this fact–Escape From Tomorrow is an ambitiously audacious production. A nearly million dollar experiment in guerrilla filmmaking, the very fact this film is being released is surprising. It flies directly in the face of Disney’s notoriously strict copyright enforcement, and the film’s urban legend baiting, physcosexual content probably won’t quell any lawsuit threats. Escape From Tomorrow will inevitably be remembered for its production history more than its actual content, but director Randy Moore doesn’t use this as a crutch, crafting a surprisingly captivating surrealist film around his unique setting.
Escape From Tomorrow is an ambitiously audacious production
In an intentionally unoriginal setup, Escape From Tomorrow begins with tourist Jim being told he’s been laid off from his job. Unwilling to ruin the last day of his vacation at Disneyworld, Roy hides this fact from the rest of his family (standard son, daughter, and distant wife) and soldiers on with the day at the parks. Through Lucas Lee Graham’s contrast-ladden black and white cinematography and a bizarrely terrifying sequence inside It’s A Small World, Escape From Tomorrow quickly establishes that something’s a little off. Things get stranger as Roy becomes obsessed with two young French girls and subplots hint at infamous urban legends like Disney princess being prostitutes for wealthy Asian businessmen. The juxtaposition between natural family problems (oh man this line is too long) and bizarre hallucinations is immediately interesting, even if some of the acting isn’t great. Sure, Roy Abramsohn protrays Jim’s descent into madness surprisingly adaptly, but the rest of his family is noticeably weaker. Escape From Tomorrow’s story plays well with urban legends about the iconic theme parks, but especially toward the middle, the film falls into the surrealist film trap of being weird for the sake of being weird. That said, it picks up quite a bit of steam in its final half-hour, finally becoming the kind of disturbing, referential weird that the film commonly tries to be.
While watching the film, it’s almost impossible to separate it from its now infamous production history. Shot on handheld consumer DSLRs, Escape From Tomorrow has a rough, guerilla feel that both adds and detracts to it’s overall quality. Disneyworld is fantastically unique setting for a dark experimental film, and there’s some really terrific cinematography of the parks here (the film was seemingly filmed in a combination of Epcot, Disneyland, and Disneyworld). Using visual compositing and external sets, Moore keeps the film from feeling constrained with its limited setting, and gives the film a surprisingly complex visual identity. That said, there’s some obvious drawbacks to this method. Some of the shots are amateurish, with some really subpar sound and camerawork, but the unsettling effect the black and white cinematography creates mostly works. The editing here is undeniably choppy, which one would assume is because there simply wasn’t enough footage. Seeing a film like Escape From Tomorrow and knowing the incredibly daring story behind it is definitely captivating, and the film’s cinematic blemishes almost add to this feeling.
Escape From Tomorrow is a difficult film to review. On one hand, I found it strangely captivating, a weird and interesting examination of age and family and the weird cult of followers and stories that the Disney parks have created. But without the knowledge of its interesting production history, and without its unique setting, I’m not sure how much I would have enjoyed the film. What’s here is occasionally brilliant and generally decent, yet the story behind the film is arguably more interesting than what’s on screen. But taken as a whole, Escape From Tomorrow is captivating, beautifully rough, and mostly enjoyable descent into the madness that family vacations can spawn.