Friday, December 17, 2010

TRON: Legacy

TRON.  Wow.  TRON!

I remember being thirteen when I saw TRON for the first time.  I loved it.  It was an 80s cheesefest, sure, but it was captivating in the way that it blended the colorful whimsy of Disney fantasy, the technical detail of computing, the fun of arcade gaming, and the style of 80s filmmaking.  In many ways, TRON taps into something highly personal within those of a certain generation.
TRON has been somewhat relegated to the hardcore geek crowd for the last decade or two, and no one ever really believed that a sequel would ever be made.  Now, 28 years later, seemingly out of nowhere, comes TRON: Legacy.

Essentially, the gist of the original TRON was that Kevin Flynn (played by Jeff Bridges), computer programming genius, accidentally became "digitized" into a computer. There, he discovered a neon-colored world much like our own, where "programs" are individuals in the form of people. Kevin meets a security program named TRON, and helps him defeat the evil Master Control Program. In TRON: Legacy, Kevin Flynn has mysteriously disappeared, leaving his only son, Sam, to grow up alone. Now, after being without his father (or the answers behind his disappearance) for twenty years, Sam stumbles upon the world inside the computer and discovers that his father has been trapped inside the system by a malevolent program called CLU, who is created in Kevin's exact image. Sam, Kevin, and a female program named Quorra must fight CLU and escape from the digital world.

So that's about it. Lots of electroluminescent sci-fi action adventure.

Here's an interesting thing about Legacy: in contrast to the first movie, which was very bright, colorful, and fun, Legacy is rather dark and subdued. The tone is (for the most part) very serious. It works out alright, but I can't help feeling that the film would have been better-served by a faster pace and more "fun" vibe. As it is, it's okay, but it borders on being actually boring at times, which is something you never want to see in a movie about neon-colored people throwing laser-edged frisbees and riding digital motorcycles.

An unusual trait of the TRON films is that the visual effects, while not entirely flawless, feel somehow perfect. Because these events take place inside a computer world, it only makes sense that they should look computerized. After all, they are computer-generated.

The look of the TRON world in general is very different from the original film. While the original film had bright colors and characters that glowed as though made of light itself (and showed the programs to be actual beings of energy), Legacy alters this considerably. Legacy's world is dark—fitting, for this darker story—and its characters are shown to look like regular humans who merely wear clothing with a few glowing stripes. While I like the sleeker nature of the suits—especially the lack of the dorky helmets—the character designs in Legacy are almost boring by comparison to the first film. It's a fundamental change to the TRON universe, and I'm not sure I like it.



The action scenes, while perhaps sparse, are generally well-done, and highly unique. They challenge the audience to wrap their heads around ideas of physics and energy that contradict real-world norms, much like The Matrix did in 1999.

The music of TRON: Legacy, composed primarily by Daft Punk, the world-renowned electronic music duo—is merely adequate at some times, but astonishing at others. Whether with electronic beats or orchestral swells, the soundtrack of Legacy is, overall, an amazing work of art. Some have said that the entire focus of Legacy is the sound, and I'm not inclined to disagree.

The characters of Legacy—Sam, Kevin, Quorra, and CLU—are all very well-acted. None of them really grip the audience the way that Kevin did in the first film, mostly due to the movie's subdued tone. One rather unique aspect of Legacy is the way that a younger version of Jeff Bridges is recreated through the use of extensive facial motion-capture and digital animation. The "young Jeff Bridges" looks astoundingly realistic in still photos, but in motion looks very obviously fake. At the same time, however, Jeff Bridges' acting manages to shine through in his motion-captured performance, giving the CG character a kind of emotional depth that counteracts the fakeness of the digital model.

One interesting note: the character of TRON from the first film does not factor into this film's story in any major way. In fact, the small ways that TRON is referenced in Legacy feel almost confusing to fans of the first film, since he's put in a position to have a much bigger role in the film than he does. It's almost definitely certain that he will return in a sequel (if such a sequel is made), but until then, this is just confusing.

All in all, TRON: Legacy is a rather mixed bag, yet is still quite remarkable. There's a sizable amount of depth in the film and its story, concluding with a curveball surprise at the end. While there's a part of me that loves TRON and wants to love TRON: Legacy, in the end I can only say that I like it.


Friday, August 13, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

This is a movie about a boy (Scott) who likes a girl (Ramona).  But, as it turns out, in order for Scott to date Ramona, he must defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends in awesome anime/video game/comic-book battle.

Now, before I go further, it's probably best that you watch the trailer for the movie.  Watched it?  Okay, sweet.

Scott Pilgrim is based on the comic book series of the same name.  It's a brilliantly-written comedy/drama about a 23-year-old boy named Scott and the insane adventures that he and his friends go through.

The movie manages to capture a lot of what makes the book so special.  It's got that same feeling of "non-reality" from the comics, which is impressive.  The cast, for the most part, is spot-on with the book, to the point where you can merely glance at any of the actors and say "ah, they're that character."

There's a few oddities, though.  First off, the plot is so condensed (squeezing six thick volumes of the comic into two hours of film) that the "high points" of the comic become the standard tone for the book.  Whereas the book was maybe 70% "normal" and 30% "crazy", the movie is about 20% normal and 80% crazy.  It's not a huge problem, but it does get to a point where the rapid-fire insanity is almost tiring.

Another problem with the film is that the sixth and final volume of the comic was not yet completed at the time of filming, and thus the film's ending is slightly different.  Both versions end up the same in the end, but certain very important details are left out.

The two lead characters, Scott Pilgrim and Ramona Flowers, are portrayed somewhat oddly.  While Mary Elizabeth Winstead's portrayal of Ramona is spot-on, most of the truly important scenes for her character are left out, due to the altered final act of the film.  Without this, Ramona is left as a somewhat bland and misunderstood character.

Michael Cera should never be allowed to play anyone in movies again.  Ever.
Scott in the comics is a lazy, geeky, sometimes-energetic, slightly-dorky-yet-lovable guy.  In the film, he's a dopey, selfish jerk.  Cera's portrayal makes Scott look like he's just an arrogant, insecure jackass.  The dialogue is exactly the same as in the book, but somehow Cera manages to make it seem terrible.

Now, aside from the (negative) comparisons to the original book, the movie is highly entertaining.  The visual style alone makes the movie worth watching, but the dialogue and overall story make the whole thing border on the edge of brilliance.  If the last act had retained the emotional closure and character depth that it should have (and Cera hadn't been cast), the film would be amazing.  As it stands now, it's just "really fun, and pretty good."


Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Last Airbender

...Look, I... I just don't want to write this. It's not worth my time.

I love the animated series upon which this movie is based. But I loathe this movie. It takes all the magic, heart, drama, humor, excitement, energy, and fun out of the show, and replaces it with slow, stupid nonsense that does nothing but frustrate.

I could rant about how bad this movie is for a lot longer. I could mention how details, big and small, are changed from the series for apparently no reason, angering fans. I could talk about the bland acting, or the fact that there are literally NO scenes in the movie that serve as anything other than exposition. I could mention the stupidly-choreographed action scenes, which stand in contrast to the series' jaw-dropping fight scenes.

But no. I've already wasted more energy typing this review than this movie deserves.


Friday, May 7, 2010

Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 isn't bad, and it's not exactly great. It's just "decent."

When last we left our armored hero, he had gotten over his insane ego and become a more responsible person. In the span between the last film and this one, he's somehow become even more narcissistic than he ever was before.

That's essentially the crux of the entire movie: Tony Stark's ego. While there are genuine reasons for his self-destructive behavior, it still seems a bit much to swallow, and it makes Tony harder to enjoy as a character.

In the last movie, a combination of cleverly-written dialogue and well-acted improv banter between the actors kept up a certain charm. This time around, the dialogue's charm is wholly dependent upon the actor improv, and it constantly stumbles.

The plot is also rather weak. It lacks the simplicity and power of the first movie's plot, and feels like it's running in circles.

One particularly bizarre element is the introduction of two characters, Natasha Romanov (AKA Black Widow) and Nick Fury, who only show up in order to better set up their future appearances in The Avengers. Nick Fury makes a moderate amount of sense here, given that he was set up in the post-credits sequence of Iron Man, and SHIELD had played a supporting role in that film as well.

Romanov, however, is a strange twist. Scarlett Johannson plays Black Widow considerably different than her comics counterpart, lacking the distinctive Russian accent and personality. She feels more like "Scarlett Johannson in a black suit" rather than the actual Black Widow character.

Of course, for all the movie's faults, it's still decent fun. The special effects are great, the action (what little there is) is good, and the story is just decent enough to keep the audience's interest.

Iron Man 2 isn't a great film, but it's not bad either.


Friday, April 16, 2010


What would happen if someone actually tried to be a superhero?  What would happen if you just put on a costume and tried to fight crime in the real world?
Answer: you'd get your ass kicked.

This movie is one of the most violent and vulgar films I've ever seen.  There's f-bombs casually thrown into virtually every other sentence, and the violence just gets more and more extreme as the film goes on.  There's nothing vomit-inducing, but it's pretty intense.  At the same time, however, the heavier the action gets in the film, the more stylized and "comic-book" it gets, which keeps it from simply getting disgusting.  There's also some sexual humor in the first half of the movie, though it's not "extreme."  All that to say that there will be many who are completely offended by the movie, and I don't fault them for that.  Heck, I don't even recommend the movie to anyone who's not a male over the age of 18, and even then I'm selective about it.  So yeah, there's my disclaimer.  Read my review and watch the film at your own risk.

The film's story centers on Dave Lizewski (center above), an "average" and "unremarkable" teenager in every sense.  He and his fellow comic book nerd-friends simply live their lives, going from one stupid and unremarkable day to the next.
One day, Dave asks the question: why hasn't anyone actually put on a costume and tried to be a superhero?  His friends quickly give him the obvious answer: "because it's f***in' crazy, man. you'd get your ass kicked."
Later, after being the victim of a mugging, Dave decides that enough is enough.  He puts on a bright green full-body wetsuit, grabs a tactical baton, and goes out to actually fight crime in his neighborhood, under the name "Kick-Ass."  He gets beaten to the edge of death.

Somehow, this only strengthens his resolve, and he returns to his vigilante ways.  He doesn't get his ass kicked quite as badly this time, and actually manages to become somewhat of a local hero in the process.  His situation gets more and more complicated, however, when he discovers that he isn't the only costumed hero on the streets, and inadvertently gets involved in a bloody war between the father-daughter vigilante duo of "Big Daddy" and "Hit Girl" and their nemesis, crime boss Frank D'Amico.

Perhaps the most remarkable and amazing character in the film is Mindy Macready ("Hit Girl"), an eleven-year-old foul-mouthed super-assassin.  She's simultaneously adorable and jaw-droppingly fierce.  She steals every single scene, and is constantly entertaining.  Seriously.  Little girls like this are why I'm slightly wary of my ten-year-old cousin.  (I'm pretty sure she could kill me if she wanted to. o_o )

Nicolas Cage also stars in this film, and, for once, does a great job.  He's absolutely perfect as Big Daddy, who's essentially a cross between Adam West-Batman and The Punisher.
This film has made me actually like Nick Cage, which is just amazing.  I mean, it's NICOLAS CAGE.  The guy who SINGLE-HANDEDLY RUINS MOVIES.  The BANE OF SUPERHERO FILMS.  And yet, somehow, he totally rocks this role to the very core of awesomeness.

A weird switch occurs in the middle of the movie, where it goes from following the non-lethal adventures of Kick-Ass to also following the exploits of Big Daddy and Hit Girl, who unremorsefully slaughter their criminal opponents.  Once the switch is made from "Batman" to "Punisher," however, it all works wonderfully.

Kick-Ass balances comedy with action and drama to such a fine degree that it's exquisitely entertaining for those few that aren't bothered by the heavy content.  This is the first movie I've seen in a long time that I've enjoyed this much.  Even though I have some severe reservations about some of its more extreme content, I still can't help but love the film.

It really does kick ass.

(come on, you thought I wasn't going to use that pun?  It's just too easy to pass up...)