Final Summer 2011 Movie Thoughts

It has been a while since my last post on account of finishing up the course I was teaching, marking the final exam, making a significant amount of progress on my thesis research, and having the girlfriend visit for ten days that overlapped with a five-day visit from my brother’s family.  So I’ve been, you know, busy.

But fear not!  I did manage to see a number of movies in that time, about which I am about to expound.  (I also read a number of books, which is delightfully unusual, and about which I will elaborate at a future date.)

I will first discuss two less-fantastical films, then move into the science fiction and fantasy backbone of my usual movie-going.  Note that there will be a few minor spoilers in my discussion of Conan.

Crazy, Stupid, Love

Crazy, Stupid, Love is a bit outside my normal fare, I’ll admit, but I do enjoy some mainstream comedies/dramas, and Steve Carrell has a good track record of doing stuff I enjoy.  Plus, it had Emma Stone (though not nearly enough of her) who totally won me over with Zombieland and Easy A.  And Julianne Moore, who won me over with Evolution of all films.  Basically, it has a great cast in a well-written ensemble comedy.

I really enjoyed Crazy, Stupid, Love.  It balanced itself nicely between over-the-top comedy and genuine emotional moments, and while there were a few things I wish it had done a bit differently, it did manage to surprise me with some of the plot twists throughout.  Admittedly, it had its moments of predictability, too, but overall it was a really well-done movie—one that I would easily recommend, if you’re in to that sort of thing.

The Change-Up

I cannot be quite so effusive about The Change-Up, which the girlfriend and I saw because we decided to see a movie late Saturday night and it was the only one playing quite so late that hadn’t already started.  Despite having two strong comic actors as leads, the premise of them switching bodies is an old one that has been done many, many, many times before.

(Aside: I actually find the body-swap comedy most interesting when done in a TV series rather than a movie, since in a movie you typically don’t see much character establishment before the switch so you don’t get a strong sense of the different characters in each others bodies.  In a TV series, however, where you have had many episodes—or even seasons—to get to know the characters, seeing the actors pull off each others mannerisms and delivery is really enjoyable.  Stargate SG-1 did this well, for example.)

Thankfully, The Change-Up at least executes the concept fairly well by loading it up with raunchy,  low-brow humour right from the start.  It eventually becomes fairly predictable, and while at times it strives toward trying to incorporate genuine emotional moments, it never really gets there.  It does remain funny throughout—assuming you’re okay with toilet humour—so it is watchable and enjoyable, but it didn’t really offer anything beyond laughs.  So, not a bad movie to watch for a few laughs or to pass the time, but not really something you need to go out of your way to see.

Captain America: The First Avenger

Marvel has been doing a good job with the movies it has released under its own auspices, the latest of which is Captain America: The First Avenger.  This was a well-done WWII-era superhero action movie that established Steve Rogers—Captain America, as he is better known—as something of a tragic figure in his modern reincarnation.  While it does not match the original Iron Man in terms of depth of characterization, it does a better job than Marvel’s subsequent movies (The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, and Thor), which—while enjoyable and generally well-done—failed to deliver quite the same mix of character development and exciting action achieved by Iron Man.  I feel Captain America: The First Avenger comes close to meeting that lofty goal.

That said, I know a lot of people have complained about this movie.  I do wonder if they knew anything at all about it going in, however, since it stayed quite close to the traditional Captain America origin.  The Super Soldier Serum, the Red Skull, Hydra… they are all part of Marvel lore, and rewriting Cap’s origin completely would be gauche, to say the least.  The special effects were good, and while one man’s action choreography trash is another’s treasure, I enjoyed the action sequences.

So, if you don’t mind a bit of inherent cheesiness in the plot, the Americana and patriotism, and the character development, I think you’ll find Captain America: The First Avenger an enjoyable movie and a great lead-in to next year’s The Avengers, which the whole world is hoping will be awesome.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

I rather suspect I don’t need to say much about this one, so I’ll keep it brief.  I liked Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 much better than the first part, though it still struck me as a bit too loose and jumbled to overtake Azkaban, Order of the Phoenix, or Half-Blood Prince as one of the best films of the series.  I do think it provided a suitably epic climax to the series overall, with most of the characters—especially side characters—getting their chance to shine, even if that shining moment wasn’t staged particularly well for everyone.

The girlfriend says she actually prefers the Deathly Hallows movies to the book, since the movies give a wider picture of what is going on for everyone whereas the books are a little too concentrated on Harry, Hermione, and Ron.  I’ll be curious to see if I agree with her once I get around to finishing off the book series.

So, pretty good, overall.  But I imagine if you’ve watched the previous 7 movies, you’ll watch this one no matter what, and if you haven’t seen the previous movie, why would you ever watch just this one?  I don’t even know what the purpose of a proper review would even be.

Cowboys and Aliens

I’ve noticed a bit of a trend while reading online movie reviews over the last few years, in which there seem to be only two kinds of movies: great and bad.  If a movie is not great, then it is bad, terrible, awful, a crime against humanity.  To me, this is obviously stupid.  Greatness, by its very nature, must be rare and hard to achieve.  To cast down anything that fails to achieve greatness as awful means there’s going to be an awful lot of misery and disappointment in the world.

This opinion of mine is why I perhaps come across as a bit more favourable that most online critics in that I rather like quite a few movies that have been righteously panned.  There are lots of movies out there that are flawed in some way, but still pretty good, and I like to recognize that.  There are also some movies that are in fact perfect but misunderstood, like Speed Racer, about which I can feel smug that I see their true awesomeness.  Similarly, there are movies that are successful but truly awful, like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, about which I can despair for the future of humanity.

This is all a roundabout way of me justifying the fact that I quite liked Cowboys & Aliens when it has gotten generally poor reviews and even worse box office success.  It delivers exactly what the title promises: cowboys and aliens.  The visual effects are good.  The action is good.  The cast is good.  (Come on!  Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig, and Sam Rockwell in the Old West! It’s a match made in heaven!)  The plot is a little straightforward and trite, and there’s no hugely deep character development or anything, but at least there is some.

Thus, as a movie, Cowboys & Aliens is, at the very least, okay.  But since I found it more enjoyable than just okay, I’d nudge it up to good, but not great.  I think it lacked enough depth to aspire to greatness; it was just too predictable and too reliant on stock characters.  But it was absolutely enjoyable and fun.  And if you are expecting more than that from a movie titled Cowboys & Aliens, then perhaps the problem is with you and not the movie.

Conan the Barbarian (2011)

The new Conan the Barbarian movie is one I am more conflicted about.  I saw it (thankfully) in 2D, fully expecting it to be awful—and IT WAS NOT.  It was okay.  There were lots of things that could have been better, but for fans of sword and sorcery… well, pickings are slim, and this stands above the last Conan movie.

What could have been better?  Well, the fight choreography, for one.  Jason Momoa, who played Conan, spent 4 years on Stargate: Atlantis in the role of Ronon Dex where he had plenty of hand-to-hand action sequences that were pretty good.  We don’t really see any of that on screen in this movie, however, since apparently they hired some dude with a camcorder to film the fight sequences and had them choreographed by a toddler on a sugar-high.  So while there was plenty of bloody action, not a lot of it jumped out as particularly memorable.

Also: final battle in collapsing lair?  Seriously?  That ancient temple wasn’t even collapsing for a reason!  And, for that matter, how did Conan win in the end, exactly?  When he fought the big bad before, he had his ass handed to him, and yet in the final battle he won the day without even a training montage in between!

Ahem!  So yes, the movie is rather heavily steeped in tropes of the genre, which are a bit tedious though tolerable.  My biggest complaint is actually that the movie didn’t feel enough like CONAN.

Allow me to elaborate.

In recent years I have been reading the original Robert E. Howard Conan stories (and the Dark Horse comic series relaunch that heavily drew on them).  In them, Conan is strong, to be sure, but also smart, clever, and almost entirely self-interested.  He steals, then spends his take on food, wine, and women, and when he runs out of money, he goes stealing again.  He is honourable in his own way, but not particularly heroic.

This movie, on the other hand, struck me as a generic fantasy movie simply reskinned with the Conan license.  The plot was of the epic save-the-world variety, and Conan was freeing slaves just because he didn’t believe people should be slaves.  That, well, it didn’t feel like Conan.  (I could see Conan free slaves while robbing the slavers, say, but not as the main point of his attack.)

Complaints aside, I was sufficiently entertained by this movie to not regret seeing it.  It also had one of the most intense action sequences I’ve seen in any movie, in a bit from Conan’s childhood, that was just awesome.  But then it got my hopes up that the whole movie would be that good, and sadly, it wasn’t.

So, while I liked the movie well enough overall, it didn’t deliver to my satisfaction the same way that Cowboys & Aliens did.  With that movie, you got exactly what the title promised; with Conan the Barbarian, you got a reasonably well-done generic fantasy with hints of and the trappings of Conan.  So while it wasn’t as terrible as I had feared it might be, neither did it satisfy my craving for a Conan movie.

Thoughts on Super 8

I finally got to see the movie Super 8 this past weekend.  It had been subject to a subdued viral marketing campaign, something akin to when Cloverfield came out a few years ago, but thankfully the payoff for Super 8 was much, much better.  I thought Super 8 was a fantastic movie.

Super 8 is a deliberately nostalgic movie, throwing back to the era of summer films with ensemble child casts (think Goonies or E.T.) and set in 1979, right smack in the middle of that era of summer movies.  It captures the awkwardness of childhood while showing the kids dealing with it and having an awesome, incredible adventure that you wish you too could have during your summer break.

The basic setup is that a group of kids filming a Super 8 movie during summer break witness the derailment of an Air Force train under mysterious circumstances.  After, strange things start happening around town which they end up getting caught up in.  Of course, this is just the basic premise of the plot, and ignores the character arcs that are the main driving force of this movie.

The young cast carries the movie, with the two leads (Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning) displaying a good degree of nuance, and the supporting actors hitting their notes just right.  The adult characters have an arc that parallels the kids, and while the handling of this is not particularly subtle, neither is it heavy-handed or overbearing.  I would consider this to be a very classically-structured film, and that’s entirely okay.  It totally works.

The reviews for Super 8 were mostly positive, with a few complaining about the ending.  While the ending was not particularly surprising or clever, I do think it worked, and I’m not sure how it could have been different without compromising the feel of the film.  Super 8 is a movie that doesn’t try to pull any tricks on the viewer; it is exactly what it appears to be.  And that’s great, because it is done so well.  Super 8 is easily one of the best movies I’ve seen this year.

 

Paul / Sucker Punch / Hanna / Your Highness

In the last 7 weeks I have finished teaching one course, travelled to Toronto, gave and marked an exam, travelled to Salt Lake City, and started teaching another course.  Around all of that, I even managed to make some progress on my thesis research.

But fear not! I have also managed to squeeze in a surprising number of movies.  I shall discuss four of them here; the fifth (Thor) will get its own entry soon.

Paul

This latest movie from Simon Pegg and Nick Frost kind of does for science fiction film what Shaun of the Dead did for zombie movies and Hot Fuzz did for cop/action movies: poke fun at the genre while firmly entrenching itself as part of it.  However, I think Paul has a level of meta-parody that overshadows its homage to SF movies in that it also rejoices in the fan culture of science fiction, comics, and other nerdly pursuits.

To that end, the movie is absolutely steeped in subtle (and not-so-subtle) references to other films.  What impressed me most, however, was that they didn’t have to struggle to fit them in or set them up, and if you didn’t get the reference the dialogue still worked and was funny enough it its own right.

That said, if you are not interested in science fiction films in general, I don’t think this one being a comedy is going to help matters much.  Also, the more familiar you are with iconic science fiction film, the more you’ll get out of this movie.  I enjoyed this movie immensely, as did the people I went with, but it is definitely not for everyone.

Sucker Punch

I so wanted to love this movie. After having seen Zack Snyder’s 300 (visually cool, if too in-love with slow motion and adapting some thin source material) and Watchmen (a good—but not great—adaptation that I talked about here), I was curious to see what he would do with his own material.

The trailers for Sucker Punch promised hot chicks kicking ass in a variety of fantastical and science fictional settings.  Unfortunately, in the film itself that turned out to all be in the imagination of a wrongfully-imprisoned young woman.  Thus, as cool as it looked, there were no stakes to the action on screen.  Sure, it was representative of other struggles in the real world, so it made sense in terms of the narrative, but it was just disappointing—I wanted to see hot chicks actually fighting zombie Nazis and giant samurai and robots, not imagining doing those things.

But I could forgive that.  It added a layer of complexity to an otherwise straightforward story.  What I didn’t like was how relentlessly dark and depressing that story was.  Pretty much everything that happens to our main characters in the movie is absolutely awful, most of the characters we encounter are the worst kind of scum, and—while there is some hope of things improving at the end—there’s not really much in the way of justice being served.  It’s just dark.

I wanted awesome and fun, and got dark and depressing.  While I think that dark story has its place in the world, dressing it up with imaginary fantasy action was the wrong way to sell it to me.  And apart from the bleakness of the story preventing me from even enjoying those action scenes, the betrayal of the promise of the trailer is what irked me most about this movie.

Complaints aside, I do think this movie was better than most reviews suggested.  I’ve noticed that movie reviewers tend to get upset by any kind of narrative complexity in a film—especially an action film—and I think that Sucker Punch was not as slight as most reviews suggested.  It was certainly a creatively ambitious film, but ultimately I don’t think it was successful in achieving its goals.

Hanna

The movie Hanna seemed to come out of nowhere, and I was pleasantly surprised by it.  Hanna is an SF-tinged action thriller with a strong cast that blends bloody and brutal action with an almost sweet story of a young girl learning to make friends and live in the wider world.

This is one of those movies that is exceedingly well-executed.  While it is not going to be one of my favourite films or anything, it is one where I didn’t see anything and think, “Oh, I wish they could have done that better,” or, “That was stupid.”  Everything hung together well, the pacing was tight, and the ending was… satisfying.

Overall, it was a good movie.  I would recommend it to anyone who likes action, suspense, or thriller movies (whether science-fictional or not).

Your Highness

I didn’t have much in the way of hope for Your Highness.  Humorous fantasy is tough to pull off in general, and I’m not sure that there is enough iconic fantasy film to successfully parody.  But it was cheap night at the movie theatre, I wanted to get out of the house, and it had both Natalie Portman and Zooey Deschanel, so I was game.

It was okay.  It made me laugh.  And it had a few scenes of a scantily-clad Natalie Portman.  Most of the humour came in the form of anachronism—the modern language and attitudes of the lead character sticking out amidst the more stock supporting cast.  The plot was basically a mishmash of standard fantasy tropes glued together with some foul language and a veneer of gross-out humour.

Basically, this was a dumb but mildly amusing movie.  Unless you have a strong aversion to profanity, ridiculous violence, and some awkward nudity, I would suggest this is the sort of movie you watch if it happens to be on TV and you are looking for something to do, or if it comes up while you are looking for something on Netflix.  It was better than I had expected, though, so for me is was a successful movie outing.

Coming Soon…. My thoughts on Thor.

The Locus Awards

For those interested in science fiction and fantasy literature but otherwise not “in the know”, Locus is a sort of industry magazine.  It is full of book reviews, author interviews, news, and more about the written speculative fiction field.  Every year, they put out a recommended reading list, and also hold voting for the Locus Awards.  Anyone can vote; subscriber votes count for double.

The reason I bring this up is that fantasy site Ranting Dragon issued a reading challenge this year, which I participated in.  I also won a free book in their giveaway: The Sorcerer’s House by Gene Wolfe, which was quite good and on which I shall elaborate when I have a chance.  The whole point was to encourage people to read more good stuff, and participate in the voting.  (To that end, they now have a voting guide available.)

If you’ve read a science fiction or fantasy book (or story) first released in 2010, and you liked it, you should definitely vote in the Locus Awards.  And if you haven’t, well, the recommended reading list might be a good place to start.

Thoughts on Source Code

One of the most recent releases in this unexpected spring bonanza of science fictional movies is Source Code, starring Jake Gyllenhaal (who I was not fond of in the Prince of Persia movie) and directed by Duncan Jones (whose directing I enjoyed in Moon).  I am happy to report that Jones has maintained his streak of good movies, and Gyllenhaal has earned forgiveness for Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.

Source Code is a good movie.  It’s a hard one to talk about in a spoiler-free way, but I’ll try—any spoileriffic comments will go at the end behind a cut.  I can comfortably say that that I liked it more than The Adjustment Bureau or Limitless, and I liked both of those movies.

Source Code is tightly plotted and very well-paced.  I never got bored, I never wanted things to hurry up, and I wasn’t able to predict what was going to happen.  In a few cases, I was able to realize some things before the characters did—but not by much.  Frankly, it just made me feel smugly clever.  I think the casting was solid, too—everyone played well together (and apart, for that matter), and I found them all believable.

While the “science” part of this science fiction movie is more than a little hand-wavy, it still came across as plausible in that it worked in the context of the movie, and that’s all that I can really ask.  It even made some nods toward exploring some of the depths inherent in the idea, though that is not the focus of the movie, and yet it still managed to raise interesting questions.  So all in all, this is one of those rare films where I really found nothing worth complaining or criticizing.

Consequently, I would highly recommend Source Code.

Now, on to some spoilery stuff!  Do not read any further if you don’t want spoilers.

Continue reading Thoughts on Source Code

The Adjustment Bureau / Limitless

It seems that March held an unexpected bonanza of science-fictional films.  I have been making something of an effort to see as many as I can, but as my time is limited I have been concentrating on movies that have a degree of positive buzz.  Thankfully,  the two I’ve seen have not let me down.

The Adjustment Bureau

This Matt Damon vehicle is yet another loose Hollywood adaptation of a Philip K. Dick short story (“Adjustment Team”).  Not having read the original story, I have no idea how accurate this adaptation is, so my impression of The Adjustment Bureau is solely based on the movie itself.

That impression is favourable.  The cast was surprisingly solid, and while there were plenty of chase sequences and big reveals, the pacing of the movie was surprisingly thoughtful and reflective.  The basic premise—which I think is apparent from the trailers—is that political aspirant David Norris (Damon) falls for a girl and mysterious forces try to keep them apart.

If that plot sounds rather simple, well, it is.  But the movie tries to explore the whole fate-versus-freewill debate, and much of the action develops out of the main characters taking action for themselves.  They actually have clear reasons for acting as they do, and it is an intensely personal story despite all the bigger questions raised by the film.

My only complaint about the film is with the ending, which seemed to arrive rather abruptly and quite possibly undermined the thematic argument of the movie.  While it tied up the plot, it didn’t really answer any questions or give us any sense of what lay in store for the characters. (I will grant that the last point may have been deliberate, given the nature of the movie, but it was still mildly unsatisfying.)

Still, I very much enjoyed this movie.  While it was no Inception in terms of complexity or quality, it was one of the more enjoyable and thoughtful SF movies I’ve seen recently, and I wish more movies were out there like it.  Good stuff.

Limitless

I had some trepidation going in to Limitless, as I hadn’t heard much about it before its release, and I knew its star Bradley Cooper more for his roles in comedies than serious action or SF films.  But it got some decent reviews from SF outlets, and did some solid box-office, so I gave it a shot.

In the movie, Eddie Morra (Cooper) is a struggling writer who takes a drug that enhances his intelligence to stratospheric heights but only lasts for a day.  The plot follows what happens to his accelerated self as he tries to take advantage of his new-found capabilities.

I thought this movie did not explore the notion of enhanced intelligence as well as it could have.  There are threads in that direction, but they get subordinated to the plot-level action and suspense.  However, the narrative style of the film was unconventional for an SF movie, and there were some very interesting visuals used in showing how the drug affected Eddie’s mind and perception of the world around him.

Despite the lack of depth, the movie was entertaining.  While the outcome was somewhat predictable, there were surprises on how we got there, and it made for a satisfying movie.  While I did not personally enjoy it quite so much as The Adjustment Bureau, I can certainly see that other people might like it more.  And, technically speaking, Limitless was the more rigorously science-fictional of the two movies.

Overall, I think my two choices for movies so far this month were good ones.

Another Delightful Screed from Hal Duncan

I haven’t yet managed to read any of his well-regarded books, but from time to time I drop in on Hal Duncan’s blog.  There, he holds forth quite frankly and eloquently on any number of topics.  What amused me most recently was his response to a mainstream newspaper’s discussion of genre fiction, all of which you can find starting here.

Tangled / Green Hornet / Barney’s Version

The girlfriend came to visit for a few weeks, so—as we are wont to do—we frequented the movies.  This post contains my thoughts in brief on the movies we saw together, most of which are old news by now, but I felt they should not pass without comment.

Tangled

Tangled may have the distinction of being the first Disney non-Pixar computer animated film that was any good.  I quite enjoyed it; more than The Princess and the Frog, I think, though the music was largely forgettable and it lacked the gravitas or dramatic oomph of that 2D film.  Tangled just felt more fun, although I’m sure Zachary Levi‘s voice work conjuring my warm feelings toward Chuck may have contributed to this.

I saw it in 3D, and it was thankfully inoffensive in that regard.  Of course, the 3D also didn’t add anything, and I would have rather done without, but unfortunately it wasn’t showing in 2D anywhere at that time.

The animation looked fine; the characters were amusing or cute as needed, and the scenery sufficiently lovely.  As is often the case with Disney movies, the non-speaking animal sidekicks stole the show, in the form of Pascal the chameleon and Maximus the horse.  The story had some fun adventures and clever set pieces and was, well, fun.

It has just occurred to me that, at this point, most 3D computer animated features are all looking pretty much the same.  I didn’t notice much difference in terms of the quality of animation between this, Megamind, and Despicable Me, for example.  I hope this means that we’re at the point where writers, directors, and producers realize that they have to distinguish themselves with the quality of the movies (story, characters, voice acting, etc.) rather than just the visuals.  If so, then Pixar might finally face some meaningful competition.

Anyway: Tangled.  Enjoyable and fun, but not too deep.

Green Hornet

I had been hoping that the Green Hornet movie would be awesome because I generally like Seth Rogen, and more importantly I like movies that are awesome and that are also superhero movies.  There was even some reason to hope that it might be, seeing as director Michael Gondry had produced weird, interesting, and excellent films such as Be Kind Rewind and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  Alas, my hopes were not quite met.

First of all, the movie had a truly atrocious 3D-conversion.  Yet another overwhelming piece of evidence that 3D films suck in general, and converted ones suck without exception.  The people who keep making these travesties happen should totally just be melvined.

Secondly, the movie felt like it was two very distinct scripts jammed together in the middle.  So early in the film we see some amusing buddy comedy that is typical Rogen fare, and then in the latter half we have an intense, violent, plot-driven action flick.  Cameron Diaz’s role also seems entirely superfluous—I get what they were trying to do with her character, but she was heavily under-utilized and didn’t become interesting until the very end.

Thirdly, the action sequences lacked any kind of consistent style.  The first fight scene featuring Kato was highly stylized.  It was not necessarily a good style, but it was distinctive.  Some elements of that returned in the final action scene, but were absent from the rest of them.  And for me, a movie having its own sense of style is what can elevate it from so-so or ridiculous to transcendent and sublime.  Green Hornet did not reach such an apotheosis.

That said, it was a passably-entertaining action comedy.  I have expounded upon its flaws—which are many—but in the hierarchy of all movies, it was okay.  I was entertained, I laughed, I enjoyed the action sequences, and there were some genuinely clever bits.  I did not feel it was a wast of my money (other than the 3D), but your mileage may vary.

Barney’s Version

This film is, admittedly, a little far off my usual fare.  But my mother had wanted to see it, so the girlfriend and I went with her.  Also, at the time, there wasn’t really anything else out.

Fortunately, Barney’s Version turned out to be a fine film.  As with many films starring Paul Giamatti, it was laced with humour but turned a bit dark and depressing toward the end.  (In this case, I believe it was true of the original book as well.  Though it had been many years since she had read it, my mother found the movie to be a pretty good adaptation of the book.)

The story follows the ups and downs in the life of Barney Panofsky.  I can’t really say much more about the plot without giving away spoilers.  What should be obvious, though, is that Barney (played by Giamatti) is front-and-centre throughout the film, and he does an amazing job.  As Barney ages in the movie, Giamatti adjusts his posture, his way of walking, of speaking.  Very impressive and convincing.  The movie also had an excellent supporting cast, though Dustin Hoffman as Barney’s father was the real standout.

So Barney’s Version was an excellent film, albeit a somewhat dark and depressing one at times.  If that’s what you like in a film, this one won’t do you wrong.

Thoughts on Tron: Legacy

I saw the original Tron when I was a kid.  Since it came out when I was 3, I’m pretty sure I saw it when my sister rented it for me on VHS.  I remember enjoying it, but what stuck with me were the Recognizers revolving their legs to crush stuff, the disc battles, and (of course) the light cycles.  The plot and characters didn’t really sink in too much, though, since when I saw part of it again on TV a few years ago, I was delighted to recognize Bruce Boxleitner (who I am a fan of via Babylon 5, which is one of my favourite shows ever) and Jeff Bridges (who is known for many things).

Clearly, most of my recollections were of cool bits, rather than the original movie as a whole, and thus while I wasn’t entirely disinterested when Tron: Legacy was announced, neither was I salivating in anticipation.  Have no hopes for a movie sequel is perhaps the safest way to approach them, and for me it worked out very well in this instance.

Most of what I knew about this movie before seeing it came from the presentation I had attended at Fan Expo back in August.  (I went to this more because Boxleitner was going to be there, not out of any particular interest in the movie.)  At the presentation we saw how they updated the graphics, visuals, and character designs, and I began to fell more positive about seeing the movie.  I was also mildly amused when Boxleitner asked us all to go see it—a couple of times, and on opening weekend, if possible.

(I partially failed that charge—I did see Tron: Legacy twice, quite by accident, but neither viewing was on opening weekend.  The movie seemed to do okay without me.)

All of this is my rather roundabout way of saying that I came to this movie with little in the way of personal investment or expectation.  Unlike, say, Star Wars or Star Trek, where I hope the movies live up to the awesome potential of their respective franchises, Tron: Legacy just had to be a decent movie.  I’m happy to report that—in my opinion—it succeeded.

The movie starts a few years after the original movie, with a recap of said movie told in the form of a bedtime story by Kevin Flynn (the lead from the first Tron, though not Tron himself) to his young son Sam, which ends with him promising to show his son the world-inside-a-computer known as “The Grid”.  Kevin then heads to work, turning to wave goodbye to his son, and we see a computer de-aged Jeff Bridges clearly for the first time.

(This brings up the first quibble: the CG “Young Kevin Flynn” looked okay, except around the mouth when he spoke.  I’m not sure if it was just animated poorly, or seemed too disconnected from the rest of the face, but it threw me off for a moment.  Perhaps it is the uncanny valley at work.)

Flynn heads to work, and is never seen again.  Sam inherits his company, and grows up thinking he has been abandoned.  He avoids any responsibility to do with the company until one night his father’s old friend Alan Bradley (played by Boxleitner, who was also Tron) tells him of a message from his father’s old arcade building and convinces him to check it out.  Sam stumbles across his father’s hidden office, and gets sucked into the Grid where the story really begins….

Structurally, Sam’s discovery of the Grid for the first time allows viewers unfamiliar with the original movie to “ride along” with him as he makes his discoveries and has things explained to him.  Fans of the original also get brought up-to-date by this mechanism.  It’s an old approach, and a bit predictable, but it does the job in introducing the world and the major conflicts within it.

The story, for all the setup we’re given, is really about a father and son reconnecting, and the father managing to overcome the mistakes he made that kept them apart.  This is punctuated with a lot of cool fight scenes—the disc battles and light cycles return, in upgraded form—a bit of character development, and a notional threat to the real world of programs escaping the Grid to run amok in reality.

All of that is really only secondary to the story of Kevin and Sam, though, which I think is a source of a lot of the complaints about the movie.  It throws a lot of ideas and plot points out there, and with most of them it fails to explore them in depth.  If, as a viewer, you can fill in the gaps on your own and be satisfied that the depth is there, just not on screen, then I think you might find the movie enjoyable.  Otherwise, you’ll be full of “but why…” and “what about…” questions.  The external plot points are resolved, but the story between Kevin and Sam is what concludes.

As such, I quite enjoyed this movie.  It is not without its flaws, and I’m not sure I can recommend it to a fully general audience, but it is good without being great.  I enjoyed both of my viewings of it, was satisfied with the ending, and yet was still left wanting to know more.

Before I wrap up, I feel I should offer my complaints as well.

  • The de-aged Jeff Bridges that bothered me in the opening scene of the movie reappears later on, as well, and has drawn heavy criticism.  The later appearances don’t bother me so much, since in the context of the movie it is not the same character and everyone is in the Grid then, so creepy CG people make a sort of sense.  I  don’t think it was on purpose, though—I just think that technology is not quite there just yet.
  • Recognizers didn’t crush anybody!
  • The 3D seemed unnecessary.  While it didn’t give me too much of a headache (a rarity for 3D movies), it didn’t really add much to the movie, and was barely noticeable.  If any movie was going to wow me with 3D, it should have been this one, and yet, meh.  I’d rather have watched in 2D with the brighter picture, like I did for the “real world” parts at the beginning.  I just want 3D to die die die.
  • I wanted to see more of Tron!  He is the namesake character, after all.
  • I think the movie offered up too many ideas, and failed to fully explore all of them.  As such, this is a source of discontent in the viewer.  The ideas on display are good, but they just couldn’t handle them all in this movie, and so there has to be a bit of a let-down feeling after that setup.

Ultimately, however, these criticism are pretty minor compared to what I could say about some movies out there.  While I don’t think this movie is for everyone, Tron: Legacy is a solid movie that I quite enjoyed, and I hope there is another one.  Preferably with lots of Tron, Recognizers crushing things, and answers to the questions and ideas introduced in this film.

Megamind / RED / Skyline / Morning Glory

Once again, I strive to squeak in an update under the wire and leave no gap in the monthly archives.  I have actually quite a lot to talk about, but I’ll limit myself to movie thoughts for now.  That, in itself, is still quite an undertaking, as I managed to visit the girlfriend and we saw 4 movies in theatre in 8 days.

Megamind

I had low expectations for this movie.  When the trailer first debuted forever ago, I was immediately dismayed at the similarities with Despicable Me.  (Note that this was before either movie was released—I was dismayed at the seemingly-similar premises.)  I was also dismayed at Will Ferrell’s involvement, as I have tended to be irritated by his movies, though I may need to reconsider that assessment as I have quite enjoyed several of his more recent movies.

Anyway, point is I had low expectations.  However, a few people I knew saw it and said it was good, so off the girlfriend and I went, and I was really pleasantly surprised.  Apart from both being about the villains, Megamind and Despicable Me are quite different films, and while I enjoyed the latter, I think Megamind was the better of the two.  Indeed, Megamind was one of the better movies I’ve seen this year.

It doesn’t quite reach Pixar quality, but the writing and jokes were clever, and there were some delightful visuals.  And, most pleasantly, the movie actually surprised me in a couple of places.  As a result, I’d probably put it above all the other non-Pixar CGI movies I’ve seen, with the sole exception of How to Train Your Dragon, which was also really good.  Anyway, Megamind is a good movie, and I highly recommend it.

RED

No, not the colour.  Acronym.  For “Retired, Extremely Dangerous”.  Based on a comic by Warren Ellis.  Most of what you know can be summed up with the following: action movie starring Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, and John Malkovich.  If you can’t tell whether RED is something you might enjoy based on that, I’m not sure anything else I can say will help.

Anyway, the aforementioned cast star as retired spies.  When a team of commandos tries to kill Frank Moses (Willis), he reunites with old friends to find out why.  Wackiness ensues, where wackiness equals lots of entertaining gun battles with actors not usually found in the action genre.

The plot is a little weak but vastly entertaining, and the action scenes are well done.  While I have seen better movies, RED certainly satisfies.  Recommended if action movies are your thing.

Skyline

We saw this sci-fi movie because it was the next one playing, and because some of the trailers looked kind of cool.  Unfortunately, the coolness did not persist outside of the trailer.  Skyline was quite dissatisfying.

It is like the illegitimate love child of Independence Day and Cloverfield, where we have an alien invasion, but see it from the point of view of regular people trying to survive.  As such, we never really find out what is going on, and our heroes, such as they are, stand little chance.   It’s a pretty dark and depressing movie, and while they almost did something interesting with the ending, they pushed it too far, took it in the wrong direction, and gave it a non-ending instead.

You don’t need to actively avoid this movie.  It had some cool bits and all, but it’s not really enough to command your full attention.  It’s the sort of thing you might watch if it’s on TV while you’re doing something else, or on an airplane.  So I give this one a big, “Meh.”  My viewing companions were not nearly so kind in their opinions, so be warned.

Morning Glory

Morning Glory is a comedy—or possibly a dramedy, though I am loath to use the term—starring Rachel McAdams and Harrison Ford.  It is not a romantic comedy, though there is some romance in it (not between the two leads).  It is just a funny, well-done movie.

McAdams plays an eager young TV producer given a chance to try to revive a failing morning talk show.  She manages to bully Harrison Ford’s character—a legendary news anchor who is a miserable, grumpy bastard—into working on the show, but has little time to wring cooperation out of him and improve the show’s ratings.  Wackiness ensues, where wackiness equals zany news bits, neuroses, Harrison Ford being an ass, and further delights.

The movie has solid writing, is not entirely predictable, and is quite cute to boot.  It is thankfully not rife with cliche and rehashed storylines, and while it’s not ridiculous over-the-top side-splitting funny, there is no shortage of laughs.  A good movie, and recommended if you’re in to general (non-gross-out) comedies.