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.

Get Low / Easy A

Happy Halloween!

In order to avoid having a gap in my archives, I’m writing this quick review instead of preparing for my supervisory committee meeting tomorrow.   Because I would never avoid work in any other circumstance.  Ever.

Anyway, I’m here to discuss two movies.  Yes, only two.  Since the girlfriend moved away and the summer ended, I’ve become something of a shut-in.

Ahem.

Anyway, the two movies up for consideration couldn’t be more different, but both were quite interesting and enjoyable.

Get Low

This movie veers into “film” territory.  The girlfriend and I settled on this instead of being caught in then rain.  We hadn’t heard of it before (or since, for that matter), but Bill Murray was listed among the cast, so we figured it was worth a shot.  Get Low is the story of an old man who decides to arrange a funeral party before he dies, where people can come and tell their stories about him.  Of course, it turns out that what he really wants is to tell a story of his own, and how he gets to that point is the whole point of the film.

This movie is both dark and humourous, rather more slowly-paced than my usual fare, and yet it held my attention.  The tale that is unraveled is deeply tragic, and yet never so bad as you might imagine.  The story unfolds naturally at the hands of an excellent cast (Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Bill Murray), and overall the movie exudes the feeling of a quality, well-made film.  If that’s the sort of thing you like, I think this is worth your time.

Easy A

I had no expectations going into Get Low, but with Easy A I just had low expectations.  It looked like a silly and fun movie, but I expected little more than that.  I was very pleasantly surprised.

Easy A turned out to be one of the smartest comedies I’ve seen in long time.  Emma Stone rocked the lead, but had a lot of support by an odd and eccentric supporting cast (including the most delightfully strange parents), and the story never quite went where you would expect.  I expected a fun-but-stupid high school comedy, and got a fun-and-smart one instead!  Hooray!

So, yeah, I would recommend this one.  No deep thoughts on it or anything.  For me, it all just worked.

Salt / The Other Guys / Scott Pilgrim

Aha!  I have finally settled upon a naming scheme for these movie posts.  I shall use the titles of the movies themselves!  Pure genius (so long as I don’t let too many build up)!

Here, then, are my thoughts on the handful of movies I saw since my last movie post.  Sadly, the summer movie season is drawing to an end, so there’s only one more on my list to see (The Expendables).

Salt

Much like when I saw The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the girlfriend and I took in Salt because we wanted to see a movie and had seen everything else of higher interest.  This Angelina Jolie vehicle tried to bill itself as a thriller where nobody knew what was really going on.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t quite the case.

It was entertaining enough, with a number of nice action sequences, but it was largely predictable.  The sort of movie where there’s a binary choice to the truth—the “Is the protagonist actually the villain?” genre—has been done to death.  In older movies, the answer was always, “No!”  Then, to shake it up a bit, a lot of movies had the answer being, “Yes.”  And that really exhausts the possibilities.

So now modern movies try to make you think the answer is no when really it’s yes, or vice versa,  But it always works out to one or the other, so whatever you guess, you have a 50/50 chance of being right.  And if the filmmakers are clumsy about telegraphing their intent, the odds go way up in your favour.  Coupled with casting some actors who always play the bad guys, and there’s not a whole lot of mystery left.

Now, as a plain action movie it was fine, but if you’re relying on the mystery for your enjoyment, Salt may fall short.  Otherwise it was a perfectly adequate movie.

The Other Guys

The girlfriend and I took this one in to stay out of a rainstorm.  It was an extremely pleasant surprise.  Normally I don’t really like Will Ferrell movies, but his buddy cop feature that pairs him with Mark Whalberg worked really well, and is way funnier and different than the trailers would lead you to expect.

The main plot is a somewhat conventional buddy cop storyline that provides a fair amount situational comedy.  What I liked best, though, was the layer of absolutely bizarre and random humour laid over top of it.  There were jokes in this movie that were completely out of left field, that I could never have predicted.  I’m absolutely delighted when that happens.  Consequently, this movie turned out to be a lot of fun.  I’m comfortable giving it a recommendation.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

For me personally, this movie had a lot in its favour: based on a Canadian comic that I enjoy, directed by Edgar Wright of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz fame, and a pretty solid cast.  I’m thrilled to say it lived up to my expectations.  Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was one of my favourite movies of the summer.

That said, the demographic is really the under-35 crowd, as it is steeped in the world of video games, anime, and indie music.  I suspect that just watching the Universal logo at the beginning is enough for you to tell whether you’ll enjoy the movie or not.  The creator of the comic—Bryan Lee O’Malley—is the same age as me, and thus grew up with all the same cultural touchstones, and that shines through in the comic and the movie.

The movie basically embodied fun, with lighthearted and entertaining fight scenes, an over-the-top cast of odd-but-largely likable characters.  Possibly the weakest character is the eponymous Scott Pilgrim (ably played by Michael Cera), but the whole point of the movie is his growth from useless slacker into a decent guy.  Getting from A to B is where the fun lies.  Highly highly highly recommended.

Fan Expo Canada 2010

Thanks to the generosity of my good friend Jenn, last weekend I attended Fan Expo.  She gave me the passes as an early Christmas/Birthday/Next Christmas present, and was in no way motivated by a desire to have company for her Fan Expo adventure or avoid thinking up other presents for me.

We met for lunch before heading over on Friday, August 27th at around 3 pm.  We thought this would be an easy task, as doors had opened for Deluxe attendees like ourselves an hour earlier, but alas, the line stretched around the entire north and east sides of the building when we arrived, and before long it was wrapping around the south side of the building as well.

Two hours later we finally got in and presented our tickets, at which time we were rewarded with wristbands, and that was it.  No swag bag or anything.  I think I’ve been spoiled by my experiences with Ad Astra and Worldcon.  I put the wristband on, not realizing that it was the sort designed not to come of without being cut, and so I was less than impressed at having to wear the damn thing when I went to the bathroom, showered, and ran errands outside of the convention centre.  Jenn had been clever enough to leave hers loose so she could slip it off.

We started on the exhibition floor, which was insanely crowded.  This was wear tons of booths were set up selling all the things I ever wanted.  GI Joe toys, classic Transformers, endless shelves of DVDs, and comics, and Star Wars everything.  And I had no money to spare.  Alack!  Alas!  But probably for the best.

We wandered over to the celebrity signing area, and were sort of appalled at the cost of autographs.  I mean, I appreciate the need for these people to make attendance worthwhile, and since the lines were quite large I guess they didn’t need to worry about demand, but still… I would have liked an Adam West autograph, or James Marsters, or Tahmoh Penikett, or Michael Dorn, but I could barely afford one, much less all of them.

I did spring for a Guild photo signed by Felicia Day and Amy Okuda, since I enjoy their work and—like many people of the male nerd persuasion—I have a somewhat mild desire to groom Felicia, albeit in a totally non-creepy way.  Really.  And Jenn and I split a photo opportunity with Summer Glau, scheduled for Saturday at 6 pm.  After that we went and got some of Jenn’s books signed by Kelley Armstrong.

At this point, we’d been on our feet for quite a while, so we wandered the floor some more before leaving a bit early.  We were rather frustrated by the poor organization for getting us in, and for controlling the flow of people.

Saturday, we arrived a bit after 11 to find a line wrapped around the building once again.  Thankfully, that line was not ours, but for people looking to buy a single day pass.  We were able to walk past them and in to the reentry doors with no problem.  There was nothing scheduled that early that interested us, so we went straight to line up for the Tron Legacy presentation to ensure we got seats.  This was, admittedly, more my interest than Jenn’s, on account of Bruce Boxleitner—Tron himself, though I better know him as Captain Sheridan from Babylon 5—being a part of the presentation.

They started letting us in early, after security confiscated all our phones and cameras, and we got some decent seats.  The presentation itself was kind of exciting.  It was hosted by Ajay Fry and Teddy Wilson from the Space channel, and first there was one of the tie-in game developers to show off the game.  Then, they brought out Tron Bruce and talked a bit before showing us the trailer and 7 minutes of footage from the movie itself—in 3D!  I don’t actually care for 3D that much, but I appreciated the effort to make the presentation seem special.  There was a Q&A thereafter, and then we were free!

To line up to get our stuff back, which Jenn did while I went to the can.  So, line up to get in, line up to get out, all sort of poorly organized.  By the time we were sorted out, it was already 1:20, so we decided to take in Tahmoh Penikett’s spotlight panel though it had already started.  Apparently it had started late though, because it didn’t seem like we had missed much.  He gave a pretty interesting talk about his work on Battlestar and Dollhouse, and seemed like a nice guy.

After that, I left Jenn to watch Felicia Day while I headed back up to the exhibition floor to try and get a free autograph from Boxleitner, as Babylon 5 is one of my favourite things ever.  I had to line up to take the escalator, because they were controlling how many people were allowed on the exhibition floor.  Rumors were circulating that even people with the 3-day pass weren’t being let in to the building because it was so crowded.

After visiting the Pure Pwnage booth to say hi to the guys (who have a Gemini nomination, by the way), I got to the Tron booth a bit after 2 pm.  He was scheduled to be there at 2:30, and I thought I was in luck—there was hardly anyone there!  Then I asked, as was told the line was around the back of the booth.  And across the aisle.  And around the back of the Marvel comics booth, and along one side.

On the upside, from my spot in the line, I had a good view of the Hasbro booth, which had some pretty sweet Star Wars displays, and I could watch the Marvel preview videos.  Eventually, Jenn showed up and joined me, flitting in and out to keep me and herself entertained.  As we neared the front of the line, she decided she was in the line, too, and so we both got free Tron Legacy posters signed by Bruce Boxleitner.  Sadly, he didn’t have time to personalize them, but I’m not complaining about free.

We figured the James Marsters session would be full, so we sought out food instead.  (We later found out we could have gotten in—oh well.)  Food turned out to be another lengthy lineup.  And then we went to line up for the Summer Glau discussion session.  She seemed quite shy, but had a few good stories to tell from being on set for her various science fictional shows and movies.

Guess what?  After that we went to line up AGAIN for our photo op.  The line went all the way down one hallway and across another, and continued to grow behind us.  But our line was dwarfed by the Stan Lee line, which I don’t think was pre-paid like ours.  And once the line started moving, they were able to process us quite quickly.  Our photo op was at 6 pm, and we were done by 6:30.  I look forward to seeing the resulting photo.

And that was the end of that.

Sunday morning we met at 11 (after I had a Cinnabon for breakfast).  This time there was a significant line of people with armbands waiting to get in, so Jenn and I took a spot in the shade and waited for the end of the line to reach us.  (It is possible that we may have filled in a large gap instead, but I fell no guilt about that.

We decided to stay away from the exhibition floor, and went on the spur of the moment to a Space panel with Ajay Fry, Teddy Wilson, and Natasha Eloi, along with two surprise guests: David Blue from Stargate Universe and Ryan Robbins from Sanctuary.  They were quite funny playing off each other, had incredibly hard questions for their giveaways, and ended the event with David Blue signing Ryan Robbins’ ass.  It was an unexpectedly fun time.

From there, we went to see William Shatner speak, and not in just as he was starting.  He was in the largest panel room, so we were able to get seats, albeit far from the front.  Shatner was… funny.  Really funny.  He had tons of funny and interesting stories to tell, poked fun at his cohosts and the audience, and worked the crowd well.  This was also an unexpected delight.  However, I was not crazy enough to try for an autograph after the fact.

From there we switched rooms to see Sendil Ramamurthy of Heroes fame/infamy.  He played Mohinder on that show, one of my favouite characters of the first season, who the writers made progressively more ridiculous as the series wore on.  He had a lot of interesting observations about his time on the show, and working as an Indian actor in general.

After his show, we were pushed out of the room to line up to come back in for the Michael Dorn panel.  I went to this mostly out of curiosity, to see just how geeky a Star Trek panel could be.  It was pretty geeky, but Dorn worked the crowd well, was happy to play to his Star Trek fans and discuss Worf in detail, and had funny stories to tell from the set and the things he’s managed to do as a result of his fame—specifically, riding in a lot of military aircraft.

By this point is was 4 pm, and our day was winding down.  Jenn left at this point to do some other shopping, and I wandered the exhibition floor one last time before heading home.

Overall, it was a fun experience wrapped in boredom and frustration.  It had an extremely commercial vibe about it, unlike Ad Astra or Worldcon or other book-oriented events, and all our 3-day pass guaranteed was getting to the exhibition floor—everything else we had to pay extra for or line up for.  As a result, there were a number of panels that we missed because we were lining up for something we wanted more.  I’m not sure I’d go back again, unless one of the following comes to pass: a) they have a guest that was a must-see for me, b) they seriously improve their crowd control and access issues so I don’t spend half my time in lines, or c) I have a ton of money to blow on the exhibitors.  If I can optimize the fun stuff though, then maybe….

More Movies

You know, you’d think I’d get around to writing about something other than movies.  But I’m on vacation now, so this is all you’re going to get.  My thoughts on some July movies follow.

The Last Airbender

I really wanted this movie to be awesome.  I mean, I want all the movies I see to be awesome, but for this one I had  especially high hopes.  This is because it was a live-action adaptation of the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender, which is one of the best things ever.

Now, I will admit to some trepidation when I heard that M. Night Shiyamalan was the driving force behind this film.  But, by all accounts, he was so excited by the cartoon that he fought to be able to make the movie, and at least the story was already coming from somewhere else, so there’d be no lame twist ending.  In fact, the first season of the show had one of the best endings to anything I’ve ever seen, so there’s no way he could screw that up, right?  And the trailers were looking pretty sweet, too.

But alas, all my hopes and dreams were dashed.  The Last Airbender had Lucas-esque dialogue, narrated montages that skipped over so much and explained character interactions rather than showing them, and just felt rough and unfinished.  It was also short.  I will grant they had a tough job, cutting 10 hours worth of TV down to a single movie, but they could have at least gone for a 2.5 to 3 hour movie rather than the abrupt 90 minutes we were given.

The ending also changed somewhat from the show, cutting out details making it just a little bit less awesome and a lot wussier.  Way to go, M. Night!  You could have filmed the last 3 episodes of the season shot-for-shot and had one of the best things ever on film, and you still managed to cock it up.

(It is my fondest hope that Shiyamalan was working busily away on a 3-hour awesome epic version of this movie when the studio told him it had to be released in a month, and so he whipped this version together in the little time he had, and that the DVD will have a super-cool Director’s Cut.)

The movie was not without *some* redeeming features: it did showcase a lot of cool ideas from the show, and the bending looked pretty good (though not quite right compared to the original).  Some of the actors were okay, but they weren’t given much to work with.

I wish I could recommend this movie wholeheartedly, but it was so rough, and so disappointing, I can’t.  About the best I can say is that if you do see it, the cool ideas that made it into the movie might inspire you to watch the original show, which is—as I have stated above—one of the best things ever.  (Also, if you do see the movie, see it in 2D—the 3D is the converted kind, not the filmed kind, and apparently sucks and makes the movie incredibly dim and an even worse experience.)

Despicable Me

This was a cute and funny CGI movie.  I saw this in 3D, but apart from a few token “wow” scenes nothing would have been lost seeing it in 2D.  It centers on Gru, a supervillain who gets scooped when a new villain steals the pyramids.  As part of his plan to regain his status as the most dastardly of supervillains, he adopts 3 orphan sisters.  Wackiness ensues.

From the setup, you can probably figure out the emotional arc of the plot, but it is still handled with charm and humour.  It doesn’t approach Pixar-quality, but it has plenty of laughs, some clever ideas, and some “Awwwwwww” moments.  A satisfying and entertaining summer movie.

Inception

This is the latest movie from Christopher Nolan, whose last movie (The Dark Knight) was all kinds of awesome.  As such, there was a lot riding on this to be a success, and a lot of hope from audiences that it would be different and good.  Thankfully, I think it succeeded on all fronts.

Inception is a sort of reverse heist movie.  Leonardo DiCaprio plays an expert at going into others’ dreams to steal ideas and knowledge who gets hired to *plant* an idea instead.  He has to assemble a team, make a plan, and then execute it (which inevitably goes wrong).  Wackiness ensues.

Now, the plot is more complicated than that.  A *lot* more complicated.  That may be the greatest problem in the movie.  They have to devote a lot of exposition to it in the first hour of the film, and then when the action kicks in it is somewhat-to-very confusing to follow what is really going on when the plan goes awry.  The overlapping action scenes are beautifully-constructed, though, and once you’ve given it a bit of thought, only the ending is left as ambiguous.

So, this is an excellent movie that is beautifully shot.  I saw it in IMAX, which was pretty sweet (except for sitting in the 3rd row like I did).  It’s not a simple action movie, it’s not quite a drama, but it is really good.  I recommend this one.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

I know, I know.  Disney movie, starring Nic Cage.  Why give it the time of day?  Well, we gave it the time of day because nothing was out that we hadn’t already seen that we might possibly find amusing.  But you know what?  It wasn’t bad.  In fact, I might even go so far as to say it was pretty good.

Nic Cage seems to have found his most natural role ever in playing a creepy, crazy old guy, and Jay Baruchel nailed his lovable nerd loser role (as he is wont to do).  The plot was a bit predictable, but it moved quickly, *mostly* made sense, and was pretty fun.  The visuals were good, and in some places genuinely clever.

So this movie was like the inverse of The Last Airbender: the trailers made it look awful, but it turned out to be surprisingly good.  It’s not the best movie of the year or anything, and it doesn’t really need a sequel, but it was a fun way to spend a couple of hours on a Friday night, and that is more than most movies can say these days.

Movie Mayhem!

So, I’ve seen a lot of movies during the past few months.  A lot of movies.  However, because I’ve been trying (and mostly failing) to make progress on my thesis research, I have yet to write about them.  I’m going to remedy that with this post, and provide short reviews of every movie I remember seeing in theatre in the last little while.  If I forget any, I’ll add them over the next few days.

Alice

Tim Burton’s adaptation of Alice in Wonderland was only okay.  It was pretty, and had some cool and funny moments, but was generally just “meh”.  The plot didn’t make much sense, it had the same creepy Burton-esque imagery all of his films have, and the ending was uninspired.  Also, I saw the 3D version, which was crap—the movie wasn’t filmed in 3D, and the “conversion” process left a lot to be desired.  Anyway, this movie was passably entertaining, but there’s no need to seek it out.

She’s Out of My League

This movie is a bit out of my normal viewing habits, but it was that rarest of all creatures: a romantic comedy with a male protagonist.  This is not to be confused with the sex comedy, which is about guys trying to get laid and the wackiness that ensues.  This is an actual romantic comedy about a regular joe (played by Jay Baruchel, to whom I have been partial since seeing him in Fanboys and who is turning up all over the place these days) who ends up attracting the attention of a super-hot woman, and the wackiness that ensues as he tries to figure out how to get over his own insecurities so they can actually be together.

I enjoyed this one quite a bit.  It’s rare to find a modern romantic comedy that doesn’t irk me in some way, but this one worked for me overall.  If you’re looking for such fare, you could do worse than this one.

Clash of the Titans

I saw this movie in 2D after hearing that the 3D sucked.   (Experience with the “converted-to-3D” Alice suggested such conversions were no good, anyway.)  Though unfamiliar with the original movie, I had high hopes for this one—I figured, giant monsters fighting each other, how could it go wrong?

Alas, the title misled me, and the movie was a confusing jumble, with a demigod and his companions on a quest to stop the Kraken.  The visual effects were fine, and some of the battles were pretty sweet, but the hero and his companions were all stock characters without a lick of inventiveness about them, and you could pretty much predict the order they’d die in.

I think that this was possibly the most disappointing movie of the last two months, simply because it would have been so easy to make this better than it was.

Kick-Ass

Now this was a tremendously awesome movie.  The girlfriend described it as Kill Bill with an 11-year-old, and that’s damned accurate for parts of it.  The trailers made this look like as if it was a “teenage boy decides to become a superhero”, which does happen, but what the movie actually does is show how awful and horrifying such a life can be for everyone involved in it.  It pulls this off with a lot of profanity, graphic violence, and touching moments of humour and kindness.  This is certainly one of my favourites so far this year.

Iron Man 2

The original Iron Man movie was a tough act to follow.  It came out of nowhere, and was so good at balancing action and character depth and development.  Thus, I had a lot of trepidation about the sequel.  Thankfully, I wasn’t disappointed.

Iron Man 2 was a good movie.  Not as good as its predecessor, not quite becoming great.  But it was entertaining.  Lots of great action sequences.  It was fun.  I think, however, that they tried to cram in too much character development without giving enough screen time to do it right, leaving it feeling rushed and superficial.  I would have happily given up some of the action sequences in favour of the character depth.

My fondest hope is that the inevitable Iron Man 3 raises the bar again, rather than dropping the ball as all of Marvel’s other part threes have.

Gunless

This was a Canadian Western movie starring Paul Gross.  That may tell you everything you need to know.  Overall, it was pretty entertaining.  It had genuinely funny moments, but also its share of cliches.  It doesn’t redefine the Western genre or anything, but is well-produced and well-performed.  Fun, and worth watching if you come across it.

Robin Hood

This movie was much better than I expected, although it was severely lacking in Alan Rickman.  While it is supposedly an origin story of Robin Hood, there was very little about it that had any meaningful connection to various Robin Hood legends other than the character names.  Other people have referred to this as “Gladiator in England”, and they’re not wrong.  Still, the story was coherent and compelling (although my medievalist friends were less than enamored of certain aspects), the soundtrack was good, and—apart from some shaky-cam—the battle scenes were fun.  A quality movie overall.

Shrek Forever After

The fourth Shrek movie was another pleasant surprise.  I had felt that the second and third movies in the franchise veered a little too much into self-congratulation and knowing winks to the audience in the form of wall-to-wall pop culture references, but this movie was closer to the original in form.  It didn’t beat you over the head with pop culture references (though it still had them), it did beat you over the head with the character arc (as all of the others have done), and it worked as a fun, lighthearted movie.  I liked it almost as much as the first.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

This may be the best movie ever made that was based on a video game.  By that comment, I certainly do mean to damn with faint praise.

Apart from the more general issues (none of the princes of Persia look especially Persian, for example), my major criticism relates to the action and parkour scenes.  Unlike Jenn, I found the parkour scenes uneven.  The sequence when he was a kid was great, with all the action and moves visible and easy to follow.  Once Jake Gyllenhaal takes the screen, the camera zooms in so all you can see are his rippling pecs, and none of the actual parkour.  Admittedly, Jenn and I are in different demographics, and so her appreciation of the “parkour” may have a different motive than mine.

Anyway, the movie was entertaining, even though a number of the characters acted in completely arbitrary and/or stupid ways in order to further the plot.  The rationale behind the ending was unclear, and the ending itself was a bit of a cop-out, undermining everything that happened in the movie itself.  I think this is best considered as the sort of movie that you might watch on late-night TV rather than seeking it out on purpose.

[Update 02 July 2010] How could I forget the best part of this movie?  The ostrich racing, ran by Alfred Molina’s character.  That was almost worth the price of admission itself.  (To clarify, this is ostrich racing where the ostriches have riders.  So like horse races, not dog races.  Awesome.)

The Karate Kid

I went to see this movie because, well, it was a cheap weekend morning  movie and nothing else was out at the time.  I was sort of appalled when I saw the trailers for a movie called The Karate Kid where they were clearly studying kung fu, and also that they were remaking a cheesy 80’s movie series.  I mean, I think Jackie Chan was a great choice for the mentor, but they turned it into a little kids’ movie.

But it turns out the movie wasn’t so bad.  I found it a little slow to begin with, but I was actually pretty impressed with the fight choreography when stuff started going down.  They gave Chan’s character a bit more depth than Mr. Miyagi got in his first movie, and had some nice training montages.  Jaden Smith did a good job as a lead, too, for such a young actor.  I was rather surprised to see full-contact martial arts tournament in a kid-oriented movie, too, but I certainly enjoyed it.  Perhaps not worth heading out to see, but not a bad watch.

The A-Team

This movie was delightful.  The cast was solid in taking over roles from the classic TV show, the plot was delightfully ridiculous, and the action non-stop.  In fact, my only criticism might be that there was too much action, and so the audience was left with little down time.  I think I would have enjoyed some longer, more in-depth planning sequences than we were treated to, but that’s a minor quibble.  The movie poked fun at itself and its origins, cleverly acknowledging how ridiculous their plans could get and mocking the action movie genre in general.

Oh, one other thing: the final action sequence was perhaps a bit too explosive.  Without giving anything away, let me just say that the same people who built the hotel in Quantum of Solace turned their hands to shipbuilding, leading to a climactic battle that was just a little too CGI-heavy and over-the-top (a.k.a. Michael Bay-like).  But the movie is super-fun overall.

Toy Story 3

I ended up seeing this movie twice, once in 3D and once in 2D, for two reasons: both showings were cheap, and it was really good.  Now, I’m not really a fan of the Toy Story franchise.  I’ve only watched the first one on TV while doing something else, and I don’t think I had seen the second at all.  (I came to Pixar around Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo, and have been stuck with them ever since—except for Cars.)  I say this to clarify that I don’t have 15 years of history with these characters.

Nonetheless, the movie was tightly plotted, with well-paced plot and emotional arcs (as I have come to expect from Pixar) and an ending that left me teary-eyed both times.  (Not Up-weepy, but still not bad.)  It’s just a really well-done movie, and should be satisfying to fans of the other two.

Regarding the 2D versus 3D: I saw the 3D one first, and honestly didn’t notice it much, except for the two or three occasions where they did something up really high and I thought, “Now there’s a shot put in for 3D.”  More to the point, I didn’t miss anything at all in the 2D version—it seemed perfectly excellent to me.  So maybe saving your extra $3 is not a bad thing, but see this movie.  Highly recommended.

Lightning Thief, Defendor, and Cop Out

January and February are normally pretty slow for the sort of movies I like, so I feel lucky in the run I’ve had so far this year.  In February, all the ones I’ve gone to see have been at the AMC theatre in Yonge-Dundas Square, which means $6 morning movies on the weekends!  Cheap movies are the best kind.  I mean, I’ll see almost anything for 6 bucks.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

The first movie I saw this month was a kid-targeted adaptation by director Chris Columbus of a popular series of books.  No, not the first Harry Potter movie (though they have been on TV lately…), but The Lightning Thief.

The movie was okay.  It was entertaining, but the plot wasn’t especially tight—several times I found myself asking why the characters were doing something so stupid, but naturally it was for the advancement of the story.  From other reviews I’ve read, the movie diverged rather significantly from the source material in several ways, so I can only hope the characters weren’t quite so dumb in the books.

The main character is the demigod son of Poseidon, charged with finding out who stole Zeus’s lightning bold (hence the title) else the gods will go to war and destroy the human world in the process.  Wackiness ensues as the unusually gifted boy goes to a camp of other demigods to learn to harness his powers, gains a comic-relief sidekick male friend and a brainy war-strategist female friend, and the trio then strikes out on their own to do what they think is right.

Obviously, the movie hews close the Potter model, but is drenched in Greek mythology, which is refreshing and fun.  The visual effects were also quite well done, what with the monsters and gods and such.  Ultimately, it wasn’t quite as good as the good Potter movies, but it was still fun and entertaining.

Defendor

Defendor was an unexpected delight.  I had little idea of what to expect other than Woody Harrelson as a superhero, which I figured would be awesome after his turn in Zombieland.  The movie did give me Harrelson as a superhero, but not in quite the way I expected.  And it was fantastic.

Harrelson plays Arthur Poppington, a low-IQ construction worker who created an alternate identity for himself as “Defendor”, to track down the evil Captain Industry.  I can’t really summarize the movie in greater depth, because it’s not quite like anything I’ve seen before.

Harrelson turns in a strong performance for the role, and the rest of the cast holds up their end as well.  The movie is funny and tragic and dark by turns, with a bittersweet ending that had me (not so successfully) blinking back tears.  I wholeheartedly recommend this movie—it has fairly limited distribution, but if you do get a chance to see it, do so.

Cop Out

Cop Out is a buddy-cop movie starring Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan, and was directed (but not written) by Kevin Smith.  This movie has been getting a lot of advertising lately, and looked passably entertaining, but it was Kevin Smith’s involvement that made me sure I wanted to see it.  To my knowledge, this is the first movie he has directed that he hasn’t written, but I like his stuff in general, so I hoped that the movie would be good.

Thankfully, it was.  While it didn’t blow my mind or vastly surpass my expectations, it was a funny buddy-cop movie with decent action and a well-paced plot in which Bruce Willis’ character is trying to recover a rare baseball card stolen from him while he was trying to sell it to pay for his daughter’s wedding.  Naturally, wackiness ensues, and they run up against a gang of Mexican drug dealers who have the card and need a favour in return.

About the only thing this movie lacked was explosions.  But it was funny and entertaining, full of swearing and shooting and jokes; you could do far worse with your movie-going dollars.