Film Review: TRON: Legacy (2010)

Also known as: TR2N, TRON 2.0 (working titles), TRON 2 (informal title)
Release Date: November 30th, 2010 (Tokyo premiere)
Directed by: Joseph Kosinski
Written by: Edward Kitsis, Adam Horowitz, Brian Klugman, Lee Sternthal
Based on: characters by Steven Lisberger, Bonnie MacBird
Music by: Daft Punk
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner, James Frain, Beau Garrett, Michael Sheen, Daft Punk (cameo), Steven Lisberger (cameo), Cillian Murphy (uncredited)

Walt Disney Pictures, Sean Bailey Productions, John Thomas Special FX, 125 Minutes

Review:

“Life has a way of moving you past wants and hopes.” – Kevin Flynn

It took a really long time for TRON to get a sequel but I was glad that it did, even if this film wasn’t quite what I’d expected.

Compared to the original, this film is incredibly polished. But that’s also due to 28 years of special effects advancement and the use of modern CGI, which didn’t exist in nearly the same way in 1982.

That being said, this is a beautiful and fine looking motion picture. However, despite its enchanting otherworldlyness, it kind of lacks the spirit and magic that was present in the original film. Call me old but I prefer the primitive effects and matte paintings, as well as the simple digital 3D models.

Before ever seeing footage of this film, I had hoped that the filmmakers would maintain the look of the original. I understand why they didn’t, as it might not appeal to a new generation but this film feels like too much of a jump aesthetically.

Now even though the CGI within the computer world looks solid, it was actually done pretty poorly in the real world sequences. Primarily those that featured old actors with their faces de-aged to look like they did almost thirty years earlier.

For the most part, I liked the story in this film. It was a good logical future for where the previous movie ended up. The only thing that I wasn’t crazy about is that the real world stuff in the beginning was too dragged out.

Although, I like that this doesn’t show you the computer world until the protagonist is sucked into it. I wish the original film wouldn’t have shown the computer world almost immediately, as saving the reveal to be the exact moment where the hero arrives, astounded by his surroundings, has a sort of Wizard of Oz colorization effect.

The film is also full of colorful characters and everyone does pretty well with their roles. I especially liked Michael Sheen’s over the top, Bowie-esque performance. But with everyone being really good and having a lot of personality, sadly, Garrett Hedlund’s Sam was pretty dry and boring. I don’t think that’s necessarily Hedlund’s fault, as his character was written as a straightman type, but he was overshadowed by just about everyone else, which doesn’t make for an exciting protagonist.

While TRON: Legacy doesn’t blow my socks off, I did like it enough to hope that the film series would rage on for years. Right now, it looks like that’s not going to happen but as long as Disney owns the brand, it will eventually get a sequel, a remake or a reboot.

I didn’t even mention the score because do I need to? Everyone’s heard it, everyone loves it and you can’t avoid one of Daft Punk’s songs from this movie creeping into every station on Pandora.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: it’s predecessor, the original TRON, as well as the animated series, TRON: Uprising.

Film Review: TRON (1982)

Also known as: Tron: The Electronic Gladiator (Australia – promotional title), Disney’s TRON: The Original Classic (re-release title)
Release Date: July 9th, 1982
Directed by: Steven Lisberger
Written by: Steven Lisberger, Bonnie MacBird
Music by: Wendy Carlos
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, David Warner, Cindy Morgan, Barnard Hughes, Dan Shor, Michael Dudikoff

Walt Disney Productions, Lisberger/Kushner, 96 Minutes

Review:

“On the other side of the screen, it all looks so easy.” – Kevin Flynn

I’ve been wanting to re-watch and review the TRON films for awhile now but I figured that I’d hold out till Disney+ dropped, as I assumed that these would be there, along with a bunch of other films I’ve held off on for the streaming service’s launch.

Well, now that Disney+ is here, you can expect a lot of reviews of sci-fi and fantasy Disney flicks that I’ve been putting off until now.

This is one of my all-time favorite films simply because of its visual aesthetic. Honestly, there is nothing like it and that includes it’s big budget, modern sequel that relied on modern CGI effects, as opposed to the dreamlike matte paintings and primitive computer effects that this original film employed.

TRON is such a unique and bizarre picture that it wasn’t initially successful. It developed a cult following as time went on and eventually, Disney made a sequel, albeit 28 years later. But it was considered a financial disappointment, despite being their highest grossing live-action film in over five years. This actually led to Disney writing off some of its budget.

In the years since 1982, the film found its audience thanks to home video and television. In fact, almost all the kids I knew, back in the day, liked the film, even if its concepts felt like they were a bit over our head.

It was TRON that really generated my interest in programming when I was a kid and I would go on to excel at computers in a time when they weren’t really owned in very many homes yet. I always took computer programming classes throughout school and even designed my first video game in 1991 because of how I was inspired by this film.

Seeing it again now, the first time in at least five years, I still absolutely love this picture from its look, its cool and original story and also because of its musical score and sound effects. TRON truly is an otherworldly experience in a way that the sequel couldn’t quite replicate.

However, being older and having a more refined palate, without sounding like a pretentious asshole, I can see the faults in the film. And even though it’s hard not to become overwhelmed by nostalgia, having some distance from this allows me to see it more clearly and with somewhat fresher eyes.

To start, the acting isn’t terrible but Jeff Bridges really has to carry the picture. It’s not his best effort but I almost don’t feel as if he’s really acting. I think that he was having a blast making this movie and it shows. But luckily, for the character he was playing, it fits and it works well.

Additionally, I thought that David Warner did a solid job too, as did all of the main players. But you can’t not see the hokiness in all of this and at certain points it pulls you out of this fantastical adventure. However, I think that some of this is the script’s fault, as there are some weird lines thrown in. Like the little observational joke that Dr. Gibbs gives when you meet him. It was a cute, whimsical way to explain the technology he was working with but it was just an odd moment. As a kid, I was like, “Shut up old man! You’re being weird!”

I don’t feel like the direction was necessarily good either but it wasn’t bad. Honestly, it seems kind of nonexistent, which is fine for what this is but I think that there was more emphasis on lining up the action on large sets without the actual world around the characters existing. I mean, this was made well before green screen was a major thing in Hollywood and the film feels kind of emotionless and cold at times because so much detail was given to the visual side of the film. But if the visuals didn’t work, TRON would’ve been a disaster.

The things that do work though are the art direction, the special effects, the post-production manufactured sets and the film’s sound from its imaginative score and computer world sound effects.

I’d like to think that this is a picture that has stood the test of time but it will certainly feel dated to younger audiences. It’s a strange movie by any standard and it’s not going to be a lot of people’s cup of tea. But that doesn’t discount that it did once speak to a generation of kids that were inspired by its coolness and uniqueness and thus, embraced a brave new world of emerging technology.

TRON is a special film. It’s amazing that it even got made in the first place because it was a massive risk. In 2019, I don’t think a studio would have the balls to try something this far outside of the box.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: it’s sequel: TRON: Legacy, as well as other sci-fi films of the era like The Black Hole, The Last Starfighter, Flash Gordon and The Explorers.

Film Review: Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

Also known as: Spider-Man: Homecoming 2 (informal title)
Release Date: June 26th, 2019 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Jon Watts
Written by: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers
Based on: Spider-Man by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Zendaya, Cobie Smulders, Jon Favreau, J. B. Smoove, Martin Starr, Jacob Batalon, Marisa Tomei, Jake Gyllenhaal, Peter Billingsly, J.K. Simmons (cameo), Robert Downey Jr. (archive footage), Jeff Bridges (archive footage), Ben Mendelsohn (cameo)

Columbia Pictures, Marvel Studios, Pascal Pictures, Sony Pictures, 129 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t ever apologize for being the smartest one in the room.” – Mysterio

After Avengers: Endgame I don’t feel as invested in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as I was for the last eleven years. At this point, I feel like I don’t have to watch every movie Marvel puts out and I’m just going to see things based off of how I feel about the trailers on a film by film basis.

However, I liked the first Tom Holland starring Spider-Man film and I also like Jake Gyllenhaal and the character of Mysterio, so I wanted to give this movie a shot.

I’m glad that I did, as it exceeded any of the expectations I had for it and is a better film than its predecessor, Spider-Man: Homecoming, as well as the pretty lackluster and confusing Endgame. It’s also much, much better than Captain Marvel and is thus, the best MCU movie of 2019.

I know that Tom Holland has been criticized by some but I dig his Spider-Man. I also know that some have criticized his relationship with Tony Stark but I enjoy it, as he’s a kid that’s already dealt with a lot of loss in his life and he’s needed a father figure to look up to. Is it a bit over the top? Yeah, probably. However, it’s still believable and you can’t help but to be touched by their immense bond over the films where they shared scenes.

And that carries over really well here in how the whole plot is structured around Peter Parker evolving beyond just being Stark’s sidekick. He has to become a man here and the whole story is a test to see if he is actually worthy of Stark’s empire, as Stark believed he was.

On top of that, it was really refreshing to have Jon Favreau return as Happy Hogan to help Peter along the way. I feel as if the Hogan/Parker dynamic can and will evolve into something just as strong as what Peter had with Tony. But it’s probably a more mature bond, as Parker doesn’t idolize Hogan like he did Stark but instead bonds with him over the two men losing a dear friend.

Adding another layer to that is the inclusion of Quentin Beck a.k.a. Mysterio, who Parker tries to envision as his new Tony Stark. Obviously, things go sideways in that regard, as Mysterio is one of Spidey’s greatest villains but the scenes between Holland and Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio are really f’n good.

I’m still not keen on the other teenagers in the film but they serve their purpose and they don’t get in the way too much. MJ also evolves nicely and even if she is sort of a millennial hipster cynic, she finally lets Peter in and shows a more endearing side to her character.

The story is well structured and it flows at a perfect pace. While they alter Mysterio’s backstory, the alteration is somewhat of an improvement, as it makes more sense in the cinematic world that this Spider-Man lives in. And what’s best about the whole thing, is the new angle makes sense and it allows for Mysterio to be more powerful than he traditionally is in the comics. He’s smarter, more cunning and has Stark’s toys at his disposal.

We also get Nick Fury and Maria Hill back but there is a twist to that. Still, it’s good to see them and I wish that Marvel would use Cobie Smulders’ Hill more than they have over the last decade.

I wasn’t initially keen on the European setting, as Spider-Man is really in his element in New York City. However, it works for the story and the final act taking place in London made up for the lack of skyscrapers and architectural scale that was missing in the earlier parts of the film.

All in all, this was an energetic, emotional and fun movie. It hit the right marks and even though this is really fresh in my mind, I’d have to say that it’s the second best Spider-Man film ever made after 2004’s Spider-Man 2.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: all the MCU films featuring Tom Holland’s Spider-Man.

Film Review: Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

Release Date: September 27th, 2018 (Fantastic Fest)
Directed by: Drew Goddard
Written by: Drew Goddard
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman, Chris Hemsworth, Nick Offerman

Goddard Textiles, TSG Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 141 Minutes

Review:

“Shit happens, get the whisky.” – Father Daniel Flynn

I’m glad that I went into this not knowing much about it. I saw one trailer, awhile ago, but my memory sucks because I’m getting old and I probably rival Roger Ebert in his prime for the amount of films that I watch. But I did know that this was a neo-noir, written and directed by Drew Goddard and starring a bunch of people I like.

Well, this is one of the top films I’ve seen in 2018. That being said, I’ve been to the theater less this year than any other because we had a terrible summer and even most of the indie stuff isn’t motivating me to get out there. But man, my FireStick probably deserves a break, as I’ve ran it through the wringer.

If you haven’t seen this, I don’t want to give away too much. The less you know, the better. This is the sort of film that takes you on a real journey with twists and turns and big reveals, curveballs and surprises. The real highlight though, is seeing these great talents together, playing off of each other and playing each other.

The story takes place at the El Royale, a nearly defunct hotel literally split in half by the California-Nevada border. It’s a place that used to be frequented by big wig celebrities and politicians. Now a group of strangers are staying there and their lives all become intertwined, as each brings their own baggage into the situation.

Some of the film is told in flashback to show you what led each character to the hotel. This isn’t a movie bogged down by flashbacks though, as they all happen pretty quickly and are just there to fill in some context and add some seasoning to the larger narrative.

The first act of the film actually reminded me of Clue, not that this was a comedy but you witness a bunch of strangers meet in a lobby at a place they are spending the night. Each seems to have a secret and to not be who they seem. But once the plot gets rolling, this isn’t a whodunit murder mystery, it’s more complex than that.

The one thing that really stands out about this film apart from the great story and the great acting is the cinematography. The lighting is superb and the shots are great. Being that this hotel is equally split by the state border, a lot of shots take advantage of this and showcase this symmetry or dichotomy. The California side of the lobby has the bar, the Nevada side has slot machines and each half of the room has a different color scheme. I also loved the use of fire in the climax, as it made everything feel truly Hellish.

While this isn’t a massive Hollywood blockbuster, this is something that should be seen on the big screen. So you should probably get out and see it while it is still in theaters. As of right now, this is definitely a frontrunner for my personal favorite film of the year.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other notable neo-noirs: Blood Simple., The American FriendBlue Velvet, No Country for Old Men, Fargo and Lost Highway.

Film Review: Iron Man (2008)

Release Date: April 14th, 2008 (Sydney premiere)
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Written by: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway
Based on: Iron Man by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, Jack Kirby
Music by: Ramin Djawadi
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Shaun Toub, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jon Favreau, Paul Bettany (voice), Samuel L. Jackson (cameo), Clark Gregg, Leslie Bibb, Tom Morello (cameo), Ghostface Killah (scene cut), Peter Billingsley (cameo)

Fairview Entertainment, Marvel Studios, Paramount Pictures, 126 Minutes

Review:

“[reading the newspaper] Iron Man. That’s kind of catchy. It’s got a nice ring to it. I mean it’s not technically accurate. The suit’s a gold titanium alloy, but it’s kind of provocative, the imagery anyway.” – Tony Stark

I decided that it’s time to go back and rewatch the Marvel Cinematic Universe from the beginning, as the world patiently waits for the release of Avengers: Infinity War in less than three months. It’s been a really long time since I’ve watched the Phase One films, so I figured I’d start with the first, a film that I can’t believe is a decade old already. Man, time flies.

Maybe it’s because I haven’t watched the Phase One stuff in so long, but I truly forgot how great the original Iron Man is. It’s definitely the best of the Iron Man films and much better than most of the Phase Two and Phase Three movies. It was smaller, simpler and actually told a story instead of being a dozen big action sequences strung together by a fragile plot thread.

This is the origin story of Iron Man and really Tony Stark, even though some of the sequels to this flesh out his backstory more. This doesn’t get too bogged down in the origin stuff though, as it does a great job of focusing on the main story and moving forward. Plus, that post credits scene sets up what’s to come with the formation of the Avengers and a hint at something much larger than just Stark’s world. In fact, Nick Fury even states that Stark isn’t the first superhero, alluding to Captain America and possibly even Captain Marvel, who ten years later, still hasn’t gotten her movie.

Iron Man is just so well acted, well constructed and Jon Favreau did a fine job directing it, even though he got to play a role in it and other Iron Man-related films after this one.

This is small in comparison to the Marvel films that would come later but I think that’s why I like it so much. It’s a bit more grounded in reality, emotion and something actually genuine.

Robert Downey Jr. is the perfect Tony Stark but we all know that by this point. It’s like he was born to play the role and everything else before this, as great as many of his films were, was just preparation for this role, the biggest thing he’s ever been a part of.

Jeff Bridges was fantastic as the first ever Marvel Cinematic Universe villain. He was a powerful and charismatic choice and still, better than most of the other villains that have come and gone. Granted, other than less than a handful of characters, Marvel has had an issue with managing their bad guys in these pictures.

This was a perfect start to the larger Avengers universe. I think we knew how good this was, at the time, but seeing it now, with so many other Marvel movies having come out after it, helps put into perspective how good this motion picture was.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Iron Man 2Iron Man 3, Captain America: Civil War.

Film Review: Hell or High Water (2016)

Release Date: May 16th, 2016 (Cannes)
Directed by: David Mackenzie
Written by: Taylor Sheridan
Music by: Nick Cave, Warren Ellis
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Gil Birmingham, Marin Ireland, Katy Mixon, Dale Dickey

Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, OddLot Entertainment, Film 44, LBI Entertainment, Lionsgate, CBS Films, 102 Minutes

Review:

“I know their faces was covered, but could you tell their race? Black, white?” – Marcus Hamilton, “Their skin or their souls?” – Elsie

Hell or High Water was a Picture of the Year nominee. It doesn’t seem to be all that well known, however. It was incredibly overshadowed by the other nominees that year: La La LandMoonlightManchester by the SeaFencesArrivalHacksaw RidgeHidden Figures and Lion. In fact, out of all the fanfare for the others, I forgot this was in the discussion.

It also saw nominations go to Jeff Bridges for Best Supporting Actor, as well as nominations for Best Original Screenplay and Best Film Editing. It also had three Golden Globe nominations. Still, when I’ve brought it up to people, it’s virtually unknown.

That being said, I’m not sure why it got overshadowed. It’s a damn fine film. It is a neo-western with a subtle neo-noir touch to it. It’s got some stylistic similarities to No Country for Old Men, granted it isn’t that good. Still, it’s a solid contemporary western tale with a great cast.

While Jeff Bridges rarely, if ever, fails to be great in a role, it was refreshing to see Chris Pine actually get to do something at this level. He doesn’t work as much as I’d like and I do enjoy him as the modern incarnation of Captain James T. Kirk in the rebooted Star Trek film series but it’s rare that I get to see him do something exceptional and at the level where I feel his talent lies. He also got to play opposite of Ben Foster in nearly every scene he had. Foster is another guy that just nails every role he is in and man, does he nail his role here.

To summarize the story, Pine and Foster play two brothers robbing banks in western Texas. The reason behind their motivation isn’t clear in the beginning but the way they hit the bangs is unusual and draws the attention of Jeff Bridges, an old Texas Ranger that makes it his personal mission to catch these culprits.

The story almost has the makings of something you’d read in a Cormac McCarthy novel but without an overabundance of violence. This film does have violent moments but nothing on the scale of No Country for Old Men or Blood Meridian.

The picture is accented and strengthened with incredible cinematography by Giles Nuttgens, who has a few dozen films under his belt already. The landscapes are just vast and beautiful, especially with the wide shots capturing the vehicles moving about in the countryside.

The score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis has a good emotional impact and just added to the film’s visual allure.

The high octane moments in this picture are exciting and energetic. There is a moment where Foster’s character finally goes over the edge, unloads a machine gun at good Samaritans tracking their escape from a robbery and gets himself caught up in a standoff with the law in an effort to allow his brother to escape. It’s an emotional and action packed high point in the film that was well worth the wait, as you knew the character would eventually become fully unhinged.

I really enjoy that this film is not predictable. It has some twists and surprises that just sort of happen. It doesn’t follow a traditional narrative for this type of story and ultimately, that makes the plot feel much more authentic and realistic.

I wouldn’t quite call this the film of the year for 2016 but it is pretty high up on my list for motion pictures that year. A good solid cast, great direction, wide open landscapes and a good amount of action all come together to make this maybe the manliest and ballsiest film of that year.

Rating: 8.5/10