TRON: Legacy (2010)

When I heard that they were making a sequel to TRON, I had mixed feelings about it.  At that time I still held TRON in high regard (as yesterday’s review stated, it doesn’t age as well as I wish it did), and it was nearly three decades after it was released, and blah blah blah Hollywood doesn’t have original ideas anymore, etc.  Yes, there was a potentially huge cult fanbase that would blindly embrace anything TRON-related, but could it be great or even as good as the first one?

In my opinion, yes.  A 2010 TRON movie would easily be on par with the 1982 version’s technical achievements, and with an elderly Jeff Bridges comfortable with his real life Zen persona being shown onscreen, well certainly the acting would be much better.  The set pieces would be guaranteed to be far more epic and action-packed, and with the nostalgia factor, for me the only way it would have been disappointing is if it had no heart or story.

Thankfully, it’s a decent enough tale, though not nearly as action-packed as I’m sure modern audiences would have wanted.  Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) ends up following in his father, Kevin Flynn’s (Jeff Bridges) digital footprints by being transported onto The Grid in much the same manner, with Sam being forced to compete in The Games for the entertainment of the masses.  Turns out that Kevin’s creation, CLU (a digital Bridges), took over The Grid in order to create a perfect world, and Kevin had been living in hiding for 20 years or so.  With the help of Kevin’s apprentice, Quorra (Olivia Wilde), Sam attempts to get back to the real world with his father.

If you go in expecting some sort of Matrix-style movie, you don’t know much about the original TRON.  It’s far more Zen than that.  Legacy doesn’t really speed along at points, being much more comfortable in methodically going about its business.  My biggest issue with the film is related to some of the technical effects, with the younger Kevin Flynn/CLU portrayed in such an unsettling, Uncanny Valley manner.  CGI artists just haven’t gotten the human mouth down to perfection yet.  I really enjoyed Legacy, to the point where I would put it above the original TRON simply because it is a more entertaining and enjoyable movie experience.  The first one was a trailblazer, sure, but not nearly as fun as this one.

3.5 / 5

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TRON (1982)

I’m an old school video gamer from way back in the day.  For most of the 80s, all I had was an Intellivision, mostly because my dad was glacially slow at adopting new technologies.  We didn’t get a CD player until 1994.  I first got an NES sometime in 1990, I believe.  It was around the time that Nintendo Power was running that Dragon Warrior promotion.  Anyways, the games on the Intellivision system could best be described today as “crude” but immensely fun.  Even today, I could probably still kill a bunch of hours playing SNAFU or Triple Action, provided I had decent human competition.  All that being said, while today I game mostly on my PS3, I still have an appreciation for the original home gaming consoles.  That appreciation also extends to TRON, which was a groundbreaking film in 1982, but is mostly considered “adorably simple” in today’s CGI world.

While I still love TRON, every time I re-watch it, it gets a little less great in my view.  Some of the visual effects are still decently impressive, but it isn’t the cyberpunk classic that I want it to be.  A lot of the acting decisions by the cast could best be described as “laughable at best”, and the director Steven Lisberger would probably have done a few more takes if the film wasn’t such a relatively expensive movie to make.  Jeff Bridges and David Warner are pretty great from start to finish, but the rest of the cast just doesn’t seem to know what the hell is going on for the most part.

I’m not one for re-editing movies and changing certain aspects of them for modern audiences or anything, but I would like to watch a version of TRON that was scored by Daft Punk.  They did such a good job with TRON: Legacy that I think they could certainly improve upon the very dry and – at points – highly annoying synthesizer score of TRON.  I still greatly enjoy TRON, but it isn’t one of those films like The Big Lebowski where you gain a further appreciation for it each time you see it.  The Blu-Ray transfer looks great, though, and though many may decry the effects as “quaint”, I still think it’s a visually stunning movie.

3.5 / 5

Surf’s Up (2007)

I wrote this review awhile back and it’s still how I feel, other than I downgraded it by half a ratings point.

There has been a rash of penguin-related movies made recently, in case no one’s noticed. Well, I don’t know if four movies can really be considered a rash, but for the past couple years it has seemed that there’s always been another penguin movie on the horizon. You can either praise or damn March of the Penguins for this trend, depending on how you feel about the penguin, nature’s robot. I know when I saw the previews for Happy Feet, I was damning March, and I really had no intention of seeing Surf’s Up either. That is until it was playing at work and I saw what it was really about, and then I couldn’t wait to check it out.

This is the second outing from the Sony Pictures Animation team (the first being the odious-looking Open Season), and the intriguing premise behind it is exactly why I wanted to watch the movie. Sure, there’s a bunch of talking animals in it, but it borrows from March of the Penguins by being a documentary about surfing penguins. Okay, yeah that surfing part is decidedly different and that’s pretty much what enticed me to want to see the movie. I’m going to say that Surf’s Up isn’t really aimed at kids, though I’m sure they’d enjoy the cute animals and such. Most of the dialogue appears to be aimed at … well my demographic, and it doesn’t really condescend to children at all.

Cody Maverick (Shia LaBeouf) is a penguin from the wintry town of Shiverpool, determined to become the World Penguin Surfing Champion ever since he was a youngster and met the legendary Big Z (Jeff Bridges reinventing The Dude as a surfing penguin). When a talent scout bird (Mario Cantone) comes into Shiverpool, Cody finally gets his chance to break out of his hometown and heads off to Pen Gu Island to compete at the Big Z Memorial Surf Off. Along the way he meets the stoner-esque Chicken Joe (Jon Heder), and the pair form a fast friendship. Soon after arriving at Pen Gu, Cody finds himself right in the thick of things, falling in love with Lani (Zooey Deschanel) and defending some youngster penguins from the defending champion, Tank Evans (Diedrich Bader).

There’s a lot more to come in the movie after that point, but I don’t really want to spoil it for you. What I would like to tell you about is how natural the dialogue feels throughout the movie, how even though they’re talking penguins, they’re not out and about doing too many non-penguin things like so many CGI-animated movies do with their subject matter lately. Sony Pictures Animation (they really need a cooler name for their sub-division) assembled the cast together for the voice-overs, which is not usually done in the animated business. The cast were encouraged to ad-lib a bit, and that playful bantering back and forth is one of the many highlights throughout the movie.

My only real problem with the movie is that the documentary conceit is so strong that in telling the tale of the film, there are instances where it’s painfully obvious that the documentary filmmakers are not the ones showing us the current scenes. I may re-watch it again with the commentary on, just to see what the directors of the movie (also co-screenwriters Ash Brannon and Chris Buck) say about scenes like that. All in all though, I highly recommend the movie for anyone to watch. There’s so much to enjoy about the movie, from the quirky humour to Shia LaBeouf continuing to prove that he is going to be a tremendous lead actor in any project he works on. Jeff Bridges is amazing as usual, and what’s even more amazing is that this is the first animated movie he’s worked on since The Last Unicorn, 25 years ago. One of the more entertaining movies that I’ve seen all year.

3.5 / 5

Iron Man (2008)

Okay, so this is the movie that kicked off the whole Avengers Initiative thing that ultimately led to The Avengers being made and probably becoming one of the Top Five highest grossing movies ever (pure speculation at this point).  If this movie had ended up being a box office bomb, well, it would have bankrupted the newly made Marvel Studios, Robert Downey, Jr. would probably have had a relapse and the entire world would be a different place now.  Probably.  But it didn’t, so yay!

I’m a DC Comics fan, so most of the characters in Marvel’s comic universe I have only a smattering of knowledge about, though I do tend to pick up little tidbits of info here and there.  Iron Man probably wasn’t what Marvel would consider a first-tier marketable character, but they didn’t have 100% control over their most recognisable movie characters – Spider-Man and Wolverine/X-Men – so the film for Iron Man became the launch pad of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  It was directed by Jon Favreau in an apparently less than 100%-scripted environment, which leads to some scenes of dialogue which feel much more natural because of Downey’s nature of neverstoptalkingwhenotherpeoplearetalking.

Downey was probably no one’s first choice for Tony Stark/Iron Man, but the actor took that ball and fucking repulsor rayed it to the moon.  The rest of the cast is 95% perfect as well, but only because I find it hard to buy Terrence Howard in anything.  This film also marks the first fun appearance of Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) of S.H.I.E.L.D. and boy I hate typing acronyms like that.  Iron Man also pretty much laid out the formula for all the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, with Coulson appearances, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) appearances, post-credit scenes and numerous nods to the future films in the Universe.  Like Pixar, only more fanboy serverish.

Anyways, solid fucking movie.  Great launchpad for the Avengers franchise, and I wish DC would be able to replicate the same formula for a future Justice League movie, but oh well.

4.5 / 5

True Grit (2010)

I’m tempted to write another hate diatribe rant about The King’s Speech not deserving its Best Picture Oscar for 2010, but I already did that in my Social Network review.  However, as I look at the list of the rest of the Best Picture nominees for that year – this movie among them – I realise that of the ten movies nominated, I would put King’s Speech at number ten.  I put the lesbian family dramedy The Kids Are All Right at nine, and I don’t believe that deserved a Best Picture nom either.  SPOILER ALERT the rest of the nominees I would most likely rate as 4.5 – 5 star movies, including this one.

First of all, I’m an unabashed Coen Brothers fan, and as a film snob, that’s probably expected of me.  However, sometimes I have a contrary opinion to that of other film snobs (I think Stanley Kubrick was boring/overrated, same for Terence Malick, Martin Scorcese is hit or miss with me, etc.) so I just wanted to make it clear beforehand that I love the films of Ethan and Joel Coen.  Even the least praised ones are worthy of a watch, and damn anyone who tells you otherwise.

I still haven’t seen the original John Wayne version of True Grit (nor have I ever seen a single John Wayne movie), so I can’t comment on how they compare, nor should that matter.  There is nothing that could enhance my watching of this movie, as it is already a high quality story, a gorgeously made Western, and a well-acted film.  It’s got it all, dark humour, drama, tension, aside from being a Western, it’s pretty much a Coen Brothers movie.  The acting is all around great, from the well-deserved Best Actor nomination for Jeff Bridges, to the talented newcomer, Hailee Steinfeld.  Just an excellent all around movie and worthy of multiple viewings in my opinion.

5 / 5

The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009)

Look at that title.  The Men Who Stare at Goats.  What the hell do you expect when a movie is titled that?  There better be goddamned men staring at goats and some reason for it.  Thankfully, those men are there and there are plenty of reasons for it.  Much like most of George Clooney’s filmography, it’s a deeply quirky movie with great performances that tell an unconventional tale.  Clooney may be part of a small group of A-list actors that can continuously act in near-unmarketable movies and still maintain his star status.

Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) is a reporter based in Ann Arbor, who goes on a journey of self-discovery after his wife (Rebecca Mader) divorces him.  Through an interview with a local “crazy person” (Stephen Root), he is exposed to a side of the military that involves psychic warfare, which in turn leads to Bob meeting Lyn Cassady (Clooney), a retired soldier from that very same military branch.  Through the adventures the two end up enduring, Bob ends up questioning all that he ever believes in.

This is not a very accessible movie for everyone, and I’m totally cool with that.  I’m also fine with sneering at those that don’t think it’s a good movie, as the performances are brilliant, most notably the very Dude-like Jeff Bridges, and Kevin Spacey stealing scenes as only Spacey can do.  Nick Offerman is also in it!  I liked the movie, and Clooney’s complete acceptance of being able to act in a part that comes across as a dignified buffoon is a big plus.  I can’t think of anything else to say about the movie, mildly recommended for those that are open minded.

3.5 / 5