Movie reviews: Tomorrowland: A World Beyond, Poltergeist, The New Girlfriend

Past, present, future and parallel dimensions come together in Tomorrowland: A World Beyond (12A) , Brad Bird’s ambitious sci-fi thriller.

The movie opens with disenchanted inventor Frank Walker (George Clooney) squabbling with idealistic teenager Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) about the best way to explain ‘Tomorrowland’ to the viewers, and soon we’re whisked back to the 1950s and what appears to be a Norman Rockwell-designed World’s Fair, where the young Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson) showcases his new invention, a jet-pack. Ridiculed by competition judge David Nix (Hugh Laurie), the devastated Frank is consoled by young Athena (Raffey Cassidy), who shows him how to access Tomorrowland, a secret futuristic city designed by the finest minds in the world.

What follows, and despite the sci-fi trappings, belongs very firmly in the Victorian storytelling tradition, a tale of moral improvement in which the cynical, pessimistic adults who have squandered the planet’s resources learn a harsh lesson about the value of optimism. George Clooney hams it up delightfully as a genius recluse dragged grumbling from his bolt-hole, although even he has to doff his ham-cap to the deliriously evil Hugh Laurie, and Brad Bird (who also co-writes) has terrific fun playing around with the conventions of the sci-fi conspiracy thriller, offering a teen-friendly Close Encounters of the Third Kind jam-packed with Spielbergian motifs. The city of Tomorrowland is itself visually impressive if not radically new in terms of design (it’s the setting to The Jetsons, basically), and if you’re prepared to overlook a couple of clunky narrative twists, Tomorrowland is an rollicking feel-good adventure.

A remake of the classic 1982 horror, Poltergeist (15A) stars Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt as Eric and Amy Bowen, who have just downsized to a new home after Eric’s redundancy. Their older kids Kendra (Saxon Sharbino) and Griffin (Kyle Catlett) are both understandably disgruntled by the move, but six-year-old Madison (Kennedi Clements) is thrilled to discover that a host of new — albeit ominously invisible — friends are already in situ. David Lindsay-Abaire’s update of Steven Spielberg’s original story is full of references to contemporary issues and technology — the looming threat of overhead power-lines, for example, may (or may not) play a part in awakening the terror that follows — but the story’s essentials remain the same: when Madison is sucked into another dimension, able to communicate with her family only via static-drenched images on TV, the family must do whatever it takes to bring her back.

Gil Kenan’s direction offers a solid reconstruction of the original tale for the first half or so, but when things turn truly spooky and the Bowens call in paranormal specialists Dr Powell (Jane Adams) and Carrigan Burke (Jared Harris), it all gets very silly, not least because all of the main characters seem to adjust to the apparently inexplicable events with the minimum of fuss. Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt put in workmanlike performances as the distraught parents, and young Kennedi Clements is terrific in her limited role, but Jared Harris borders on the ludicrous in his turn as a kind of secular exorcist, leaving the audience to wonder if this is a remake more inspired by parody than homage.

Adapted from a short story by the late Ruth Rendell, The New Girlfriend (15A) is a love story with a very striking twist. Devastated when her best friend Laura (Isild de Besco) dies, Claire (Anaïs Demoustier) vows to watch over Laura’s husband David (Romain Duris) and baby Lucie. Her vow is tested, however, when she calls to David’s house to discover David dressed in Laura’s clothes whilst feeding Lucie. David swears that he has dressed in his dead wife’s clothes only to soothe Lucie, but soon the truth comes out and Claire is helping David as he tentatively explores his new feminine identity, Virginia.

Written and directed by François Ozon, The New Girlfriend begins as a quirky exploration of the different ways in which people cope with bereavement, but it soon takes a more profound tone as Claire and David begin to invest themselves heavily in the character of ‘Virginia’. Duris is excellent as David/Virginia, by turns poignant and hilarious as he tries to come to terms with a life turned entirely upside down, while Demoustier is superb in a less flamboyant but equally fascinating role, as Claire begins to substitute ‘Virginia’ for the dead Laura, albeit a Laura to whom she finds herself sexually attracted. Detailed in a spare, economic style by cinematographer Pascal Marti, and revelling in its characters’ discovering of an unexpected sensuality, The New Girlfriend is tender, sad and sweetly funny.

Tomorrowland: A World Beyond ****

Poltergeist **

The New Girlfriend ****


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