Duets: Tomorrowland and What We Do in the Shadows

what we do in the shadows

Well, it was bound to happen eventually. In this movie pairing, you will find my first real disappointment of the year. It’s a major bummer—especially because the film I’m referring to made this list of 25 films that caught my interest for this year. If you’ve seen it and/or kept up on your current movie reviews, I bet you know which film I’m talking about. So that’s unfortunate. On a happier note, the other film was kind of amazing. Anyway, time to sing a little movie Duet! 🙂



Synopsis: “Bound by a shared destiny, a teen bursting with scientific curiosity and a former boy-genius inventor embark on a mission to unearth the secrets of a place somewhere in time and space that exists in their collective memory.” –www.imdb.com

The High Notes:

  • Britt Robertson as bright, enthusiastic teen Casey. I guess aside from Dan in Real Life (which I barely remember her in), this is the first I’ve seen much of Robertson, and I think she could have a solid career ahead of her. Though George Clooney has been the big selling point for this film, Robertson holds her own as a smart, caring, gutsy, and likable leading lady.
  • The impressive visuals. You can always count on Disney for visually spectacular films, can’t you? While I don’t think this quite matches the visual splendor of this year’s Cinderella, Tomorrowland is still pretty darn cool. Lots of nifty inventions and robot fights and explosions and the like.
  • The creative ideas. I think the premise of this is really cool—the whole “secret place filled with geniuses” thing. And I love the pin that gives Casey a glimpse into that world. And Frank’s (Clooney) highly defended high-tech house. There are lots of cool bits here and there in the film that make it fun. And it also makes me want to go back to Disney World and see the Tomorrowland stuff. So well played, Disney. Well played.

The Low Notes:

  • George Clooney’s charm is lacking—plus, he’s kind of creepy. I hate that for Clooney, but it is what it is. His character is surly, stubborn, and kind of hard to like. That signature Clooney charm keeps him from being unlikable, but I still think the writers could’ve created a character with a bit more to him. As for the creepiness…Well, he has a relationship with a certain character that is kind of off-putting, especially when a certain moment toward the end is taken into consideration. I won’t ruin it for you, but things get a little weird.
  • The film’s message is way too heavy-handed. There are no feather-light touches here; it’s a sledgehammer to the face with someone screaming, “End war and save the environment!” Don’t get me wrong—I’m all for both of these things, but there more subtle and more effective ways to express these messages.
  • The film ultimately feels hollow and generic. It has a lot of promise in the first half, but it all becomes a predictable, effects-heavy spectacle toward the end that doesn’t leave any kind of lasting impression. I left feeling pretty dissatisfied, especially knowing how much better the film could’ve been.

The Staccato Version: With director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, The Iron Giant, Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol) at the helm and Disney’s magical influence, this was supposed to be one of the best films of the summer. Alas, that’s not the case. It has a lot of promise, and it actually starts out on a pretty solid note. But the second half of Tomorrowland and its not-so-subtle messages weigh the film down, making it much less enjoyable than I’d hoped. Might be worth a watch for the kiddies, but I’d still suggest no more than a rental for this one.

My Grade: C

What We Do in the Shadows

what we do in the shadows 2

Synopsis: “Viago, Deacon, and Vladislav are vampires who are finding that modern life has them struggling with the mundane—like paying rent, keeping up with the chore wheel, trying to get into nightclubs, and overcoming flatmate conflicts.” –www.imdb.com

The High Notes:

  • The cast and the different vampires they represent. Ben Fransham is ancient, Nosferatu-esque Petyr. Jermaine Clement is Vladislav, a clear reference to Vlad the Impaler. Taika Waititi is Viago, a sweet, awkward vampire and the romantic of the group. Jonathan Brugh is Deacon, a vampire described as the young rebel of the group—young at 183, of course. And then there’s another character who is turned in the film, becoming a more modern representation of vampires…but I won’t ruin that for you. These are all such distinct delightful characters, and it’s a lot of fun seeing all of these generations represented in one film.
  • The humor. Simply put, this movie is hilarious. It gleefully spoofs the vampire genre in every scene, providing more laughs than it should have any right to. The mix of characters and the situations they find themselves in are just so funny. A large part of the humor is simply the fact that these powerful, mythical creatures are put in such ordinary life situations. It’s wonderful.
  • The clever, fresh, and ridiculously fun use of the mockumentary filming style. It’s like a supernatural Real World, and I love that about it. Mockumentaries/found-footage films have their ups and downs in the horror genre, and I know a lot of people are getting tired of it, but I think there are still plenty of comedic opportunities in this style, and I’d love to see more films like this. Perhaps this is just my fondness for Drop Dead Gorgeous speaking, but it is what it is.

The Low Notes:

  • Though I enjoyed it all the way through, for some people, the humor might lose its appeal as the film goes on. It’s the kind of humor that could maybe seem repetitive. Again, I had no problem with it, and I found a lot to laugh about, but I’m sure it won’t be everyone’s thing.
  • Since it kind of models itself after Real World, it doesn’t really have much of a plot. I think that co-directors Clement and Waititi manage to make it work, but, again, it all comes down to personal taste. When a film is this funny, I think most people can handle it being light on plot.
  • For me, the end doesn’t pack quite as much oomph as it could. Perhaps that was the intention—to end on a somewhat tame note for a comedy about mysterious creatures of the night—but it was almost a little too perfect for me. It by no means ruins anything, but still.

The Staccato Version: I think I just found my favorite comedy of the year (so far). This vampire mockumentary is filled to the brim with delightfully quirky characters and so, so many laughs. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it really struck a chord with me. If Twilight makes you roll your eyes and Flight of the Conchords makes you giggle, then this is probably the film for you.

My Grade: A-

22 thoughts on “Duets: Tomorrowland and What We Do in the Shadows

  1. I loved What We Do in the Shadows. Stu was my absolute favourite character. He barely speaks but his facial expressions tell such a story.

  2. I also liked What We Do in the Shadows (in brief, http://jayceland.com/blog/archive/2015/04/03/movies-in-march-2015/ ). The past couple years, I was indoctrinated into the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series and overall thought it was a solid and entertaining show, but in its long run, it couldn’t fully avoid touching on the biology and physics of vampires. Inquisitive skepticism has ruined otherwise good stories for me many times, and the sheer impossibility of a real vampire makes it a hard sell in an otherwise reality-based story. And as for the Flight of the Conchords humor: I found them amusing, but at their best in their over-the-top but somehow reserved satires (like their “Bowie” episode, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bowie_%28Flight_of_the_Conchords%29 ); WWDitS highlights that kind of satire.

    So I think I could add that What We Do in the Shadows offers a playful release for all of us who felt the need to silence our criticisms of the absurdity of vampires while offering enough respect for canon to appease the genre fans.

  3. I really need to get to What We Do In The Shadows because it looks awesome, and I am disappointed to hear in so many places that Tomorrowland just fell flat. Meh. Oh well.

  4. Another very interesting pairing of films here! Tomorrowland also greatly let me down; it probably won’t make any end-of-year lists (at least in terms of worst and all that) but I left that one kind of shrugging my shoulders. :\

    WWDITS, on the other hand, fantastic. That was great and I think while it does probably help to have some experience with Flight of the Conchords, what you say certainly applies more: just seeing vampires put in such mundane situations makes for some serious comedy. 🙂

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