Category Archives: Film Reviews

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

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JJ Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek film was my first introduction to the franchise, and, looking back, I’m still quite fond of that movie. While I initially quite enjoyed his 2013 followup, Star Trek Into Darkness (my review), here we are three years later and I’ve still only seen it the one time I saw it in the theater despite owning it on Blu-Ray…it just isn’t a movie that really stuck with me or demanded rewatches. That being said, I was wary of director Justin Lin – most known for his ventures in the Fast and Furious franchise – taking over for the third installment, but…wow. What a great movie!

Taking place three years after the events of Star Trek Into DarknessStar Trek Beyond places the beloved crew of the USS Enterprise in deep space, exploring new worlds and seeking allies for the Federation. Shortly after arriving at Starbase Yorktown, the crew, still led by Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), is sent out on a rescue mission into an uncharted nebula, where they are attacked by a creature named Krall and his massive crew. With the Enterprise destroyed, the crew separated, and hope diminishing, Kirk must find a way to rescue his crew and to save the universe at the same time.

It should be noted that all three of the new-Trek films so far noticeably borrow from what is widely regarded as the best Star Trek film, The Wrath of Khan (my review): Star Trek utilizes the Kobayashi Maru test that was first introduced in TWOKStar Trek Into Darkness uses its main villain and directly imitates entire scenes, and Star Trek Beyond explores the same themes of mortality and sacrifice. I would argue that Beyond does this with the most success because it takes familiar themes and applies them to the different situations that the characters find themselves in rather than lifting direct story or scene elements, making the comparisons more subtle and therefore more effective. I can also give this movie the same compliment that I gave TWOK: it feels like an extended episode of the TV series in all the best ways. It really is masterfully done.

The characters this time around are established and don’t require the “set up” that they received in the first two films; they’re now largely the characters we know and love from the original television show and movie series. Chris Pine’s Kirk is a leader who is confident in his abilities and his responsibilities as a captain, but he’s also at a point in his life where he doesn’t know what’s next for him. It’s not that he has insecurities but rather that he is struggling to find the meaning of their continued exploration in uncharted space. We’re able to see his growth over the course of the film as he realizes that his crew is his family and that he would be out of place if he was placed anywhere aside from the bridge of a starship (the same conclusion William Shatner’s Kirk reaches in The Wrath of Khan through different circumstances). The introduction of his famous “captain’s log” in the new-Trek franchise is also an excellent touch.

As captain, Kirk continues to be the main character, but the supporting characters are definitely not tossed to the side here; in fact, we get many great moments with each of the classic members of the crew. Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Bones (Karl Urban), two characters with a history of a somewhat antagonistic relationship, are paired together for much of the film, resulting in some hilarious banter but also some tender moments of expressed friendship and overcoming obstacles. Scotty (Simon Pegg), Sulu (John Cho), and Uhura (Zoë Saldana) all get their moments in the limelight as well. Thankfully, Anton Yelchin as Chekov is given much screentime as he’s paired with Kirk; his work here only continues to show how truly devastating it is that he has left us so soon. Lastly, Sofia Boutella as the newcomer Jaylah was fantastic as a strong female character who was able to hold her own, and, in fact, much of the film would not have been possible without her character’s actions.

I think this movie’s biggest issue is its villain. Idris Elba is an incredible actor, and he did an admirable job here as Krall, but an actor can only do so much when hidden behind that much CGI. His character’s motivations are revealed towards the end of the film, and they’re understandable to a certain extent, but I think that as the antagonist his main purpose was definitely to provide a scenario for our heroes to grow and interact with each other in meaningful ways. The visual effects behind Krall and his fleet of bee-like ships was very well done and made for exciting action sequences. While I’m mentioning technical effects in the movie, I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up returning composer Michael Giacchino’s wonderful score; his universe building is fantastic and continues to offer some of the best sci-fi music out there. And, of course, I have to say how awesome the pop music used is, in one scene in particular…I won’t spoil it here, and I certainly wouldn’t think that a scene like that would ever appeal to me, but it’s possibly the most fun scene in the whole movie.

I’ve said a few times recently, like in my written review for Blade Runner, that what sci-fi as a genre does best is ask questions and present new ideas, and Star Trek Beyond does that extremely well. It asks us to consider mortality and our friendships with others, and it does so within a fantastical setting that keeps us engrossed without distracting us from the point. When I learned that Justin Lin was directing this movie, I was concerned – Fast and Furious lies far outside my usual range of interest – but I could not have been proven more wrong; he accomplishes so much here with an amazing script by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung. Star Trek Beyond is without a doubt my favorite of the new Star Trek films, and it makes me even more excited for future films in the franchise.

-Chad

RECOMMEND

MPAA: PG-13 – for sequences of sci-fi action and violence

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Blade Runner (1982)

Note: This film was the main topic of discussion on Episode 4 of my podcast, The Cinescope Podcast. Give it a listen for a more in-depth discussion!

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*very mild spoilers*

What is the appeal of the sci-fi genre? Certainly the potential of catching a possible glimpse of the future is a draw, and people are always glad to see the exciting action sequences that are typical in sci-fi works. But I would argue that what sci-fi does well, often better than other genre films, is ask questions, present new ideas, and generally give us life questions to ponder after the credits roll. Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner accomplishes all of the above.

In 2019 Los Angeles, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is brought in by his former supervisor Bryant (M. Emmet Walsh) and briefed on a new assignment: four Replicants – illegal androids – have escaped to Earth from off-planet human colonies, and they must now be killed. You see, Deckard used to be what they call a “Blade Runner”, a sort of bounty hunter tasked with tracking down these Replicants and “retiring” them. With Replicants being nearly indistinguishable from humans, Deckard has his work cut out for him, and he may just lose his humanity or even his life along the way.

The plot of the movie is relatively simple: good guy needs to hunt down robot bad guys and kill them before bad things happen. But, as I mentioned, the real highlights here are the questions…are the bad guys actually bad guys? Are the good guys actually good guys? What is right? What is wrong? What does it mean to be human? All of these questions carry quite a bit of heft and really drive the momentum of the film. I won’t attempt to answer any of these questions here – namely because my answers might be different than yours, as they’re meant to be.

Though the whole cast shines, there are three in particular that stand out in my mind when I watch this movie. The obvious choice is Harrison Ford as Deckard. As our primary human character, he brings us an interesting mix of the empathy we expect in a human but also the coldness and moral distance you would expect from a machine or, in this case, a Replicant. One of the biggest – if not the biggest – questions from this movie is whether Deckard is a human or a Replicant, and Ford masterfully plays along that fine line without definitively revealing anything either way. Another standout is Rutger Hauer as the Replicant Roy, who has perhaps the biggest character arc in the film, or at least the most interesting one. He possesses a strange energy that both endears and frightens, especially through the vibrancy of his bright blue eyes, but he also often shows more human traits than Deckard does: compassion, empathy, sadness, happiness, and he delivers one of the finest speeches to be found in any sci-fi film, or to be honest, in any film at all (and partially improvised, at that!). The last one I’ll mention here is Sean Young as the Replicant Rachael, who is particularly fascinating because her character initially believes herself to be a human thanks to implanted memories. Where Deckard is a human with many Replicant qualities, Rachael is just the opposite, and watching her cry as she learns that the memories of the life she thought she had were forgeries is heartbreaking. Throughout the rest of the movie, she expresses conflict between which faction she owes her allegiance to – the humans who created her or the Replicants who share her origin.

Vangelis, of Chariots of Fire fame, sets the tone of the film with another synth-based score that works extremely well in this futuristic dystopian setting; there’s a technological energy in the music as the film opens, but this eventually gives way to a strong feeling of melancholy and despair that matches the state of the world and the conflict going on within our characters’ minds.

The questions and the themes found in this movie could be talked about and written about for ages to come (and probably will be), but for now I’ll leave you to watch the film for yourself and ponder over everything on your own. If you do, I highly recommend checking out the basis for the film as well, Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Reading the book really helped me to get into Deckard’s head and to understand some of his motivations and internal struggles. Once you have watched the movie and maybe read the book, talk about it with others! Blade Runner is a film that demands discussion because of the complex questions found within, but, for the more casual moviegoer, it still has a lot to offer in the way of good sci-fi worldbuilding and action. However you take it on, enjoy the ride and consider: what does it mean to live?

-Chad

(P.S. – Watch the Final Cut.)

RECOMMEND!

MPAA: R – for violence and brief nudity


Frequency (2000)

Note: This film was the main topic of discussion on Episode 3 of my podcast, The Cinescope Podcast. Give it a listen for a more in-depth discussion!

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*very mild spoilers*

It shouldn’t be any secret ’round these parts that I am, let’s say, fond of time travel movies, Back to the Future (my review) being the top of the bunch. Time travel, however, can be a tricky subject, and if it’s not done well, it can be almost painful to watch. Thankfully, Frequency – which happens to be a time travel movie that doesn’t actually feature time travel – handles its subject matter with great care and gives us some great drama along the way.

In October 1969, we’re introduced to Frank Sullivan (Dennis Quaid), a firefighter who loves his job, his wife Julia (Elizabeth Mitchell), and his son John. Flash forward to October 1999 where we meet John Sullivan (Jim Caviezel), now a 36-year-old police officer who we learn lost his father in a fire…30 years ago. Struggling with the departure of his girlfriend and the impending anniversary of his father’s death, John discovers Frank’s old ham radio and, upon hooking it up, finds none other than his own deceased father on the other end of the conversation. Faced with the question of “what if” and all the implications that lie therein, John and Frank begin to reconnect but then must face the consequences that come with meddling with time.

As I mentioned above, this is a time travel movie that doesn’t feature time travel; instead, we have John’s ability to manipulate the past by communicating with his father and changing the way things “originally” happened, causing fascinating ripple effects that we witness in the form of memory flashbacks, changing pictures, and even matter being manipulated in real time. For example, in one scene Frank, in a moment of irony, accidentally sets fire to an object on his desk, and John, sitting at the same desk 30 years later, witnesses the scorch mark appearing first hand. Scenes like this (and another in which Frank writes a message with a soldering iron on the same desk) communicate to the audience that these two characters’ interactions at different moments in time are happening concurrently and have an effect on each other.

Speaking of these two characters, Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel are perfectly cast as a father/son duo. Quaid’s introduction as Frank shows us both the passion he has for his job and for helping other people – at his own peril – as well as his immense love for his family; dancing with his wife while singing Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds” (my favorite Presley song) is a highlight of the movie, and Quaid’s natural ease and likability boosts the scene even further. Jim Caviezel’s John is tortured and depressed – his girlfriend is gone, he has grown up without his dad, and he’s distanced from his mother – but he ultimately shares in his father’s desire to help people. Once they are able to reconnect with each other via the radio, we get a great sense of chemistry despite the fact that they are never in the same room at the same time. One scene in particular has the two catching up on subjects such as life, baseball, and marriage, ending with an incredibly heartfelt “I love you” – something they haven’t been able to say to each other in 30 years. It’s this relationship between Frank and John that serves as the focus of the film and presents the majority of the heart.

Other characters I want to mention but won’t linger on too long for fear of spoilers are Elizabeth Mitchell’s Julia, or “Jules” as she’s affectionately called by Frank and others. She fills the dual roles of loving mother/wife and tough woman who isn’t afraid to stand up for herself or others. As a nurse, she works hard to save others’ lives, but in a scene late in the film when her son’s life is in danger, she does what it takes to jump in and potentially sacrifice herself in order to save his life. Andre Braugher’s Satch, police pal of Frank and eventually John when he joins the force, has his moment in the spotlight as well in a scene where he expresses a huge range of emotions, from anger to incredulity to disbelief to tenderness, and at no point does it seem over the top. One more character to mention: Shawn Doyle eventually appears as the villain, and he’s a perfect mix of grounded while still maintaining a certain level of sleaze that makes you know he’s up to no good, but, again, he’s never over the top or hard to accept as a potential real person. (Worth noting that we also get a young Michael Cera in his first feature film role, playing the son of John’s long-time friend Gordo, who is played by Noah Emmerich.)

The rest I’ll leave to the podcast because it features some great discussion between Mugglecast‘s own Eric Scull and me. It isn’t the first time I’ve said it and it certainly won’t be the last, but I love time travel movies, and Frequency is no exception. Sure, it has its fair share of sci-fi and even a bit of action, but the real strength of this movie lies in its characters and the love that they show for each other…everything else is just an added bonus. This movie is underrated and is definitely worth the watch!

-Chad

RECOMMEND!

MPAA: PG-13 – for intense violence and disturbing images


Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Note: This film was the main topic of discussion on Episode 2 of my podcast, The Cinescope Podcast. Give it a listen for a more in-depth discussion!

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My experience with Star Trek is limited, especially in regards to Classic Trek. In fact, JJ Abrams’ 2009 reboot was my introduction to the franchise in any way, and it wasn’t until a few years later that I saw any Classic Trek at all. So when my friend TJ told me that he wanted to talk about Wrath of Khan when I asked him to be on my podcast, I did a tiny bit of research and preparation, but my goal was to view this as a non-Trekkie to see if it was not only a great Trek film but also, and more importantly, a great film as well, and whaddya know? It certainly is.

Following the events of the 1967 Star Trek: The Original Series episode “Space Seed”, in which Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) maroons Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalbán) and the remainder of his people on a planet as punishment for the attempted takeover of the USS EnterpriseWrath of Khan features an older, dissatisfied Kirk – now Admiral – joining his former crew on the Enterprise once again for a routine training mission. However, things become anything but routine when Khan is revealed to have returned, angrier than ever and prepared to do whatever it takes to seek vengeance against Admiral Kirk. Faced with a new adventure and tasked with protecting the lives of his crew, Kirk and company must find a way to defeat Khan before he unleashes a technology with the capability of destroying all life on any planet he chooses.

*mild spoilers ahead*

Even with my limited experience in the classic Trek universe, what I’ve found that I love about it most is that the sci-fi/adventure aspect is almost an afterthought; yes, there are cool spaceships and futuristic technologies, but the main focus in everything I’ve seen so far has been humans (or aliens) having human moments with each other while going through human experiences. The setting is merely a setting – the situations are universal. This movie deals with themes such as mortality, youth, sacrifice, and love vs. hate, and it deals with these themes better than many non-sci-fi movies.

That being said, the character with whom we identify the most is Admiral Kirk himself. He is profoundly human in that he is flawed. He features strong charisma and leadership capabilities, and his love and duty for his friends and crew are apparent, but he, like all of us, is often emotional and reactionary, which leads to mistakes. Thankfully, he learns from his mistakes throughout the course of the film through self-evaluation and through listening to the advice of his friends, and by the end he is a better man because of it. Spock, played by the iconic Leonard Nimoy, is merely the other side of the coin. To contrast with Kirk’s emotions, Spock makes decisions through logic and necessity, but he shows by the end of the film that logic is not always the antithesis of emotion – that sometimes the two go hand in hand because the logical thing to do is to make sacrifices for the ones you love.

Khan, on the other hand, features a personality similar to Kirk’s in that he is driven by emotion, but his emotions blind and deafen him to the warnings of his crew. Montalbán gives a great performance here – you can see the calculating look in his eyes as he decides what his next course of action will be, and his fits of passion are just as powerful as the moments when he menacingly whispers, showing his ability to control a situation when he has the advantage. He’s a fantastic villain in the sense that you know why he is doing what he’s doing, which is what you want when it comes to the antagonist – believable motivation.

Storytelling and characters aside, this is a sci-fi film, and those elements are done extremely well. For a film made in 1982, the graphics hold up surprisingly well, with a particular CGI sequence made by an early iteration of Pixar being a definite highlight. Another element of note is the space combat, with the idea by director Nicholas Meyer to approach it like a submarine battle proving to be an effective action sequence. And I can’t praise the score enough; composed by a young James Horner, the music switches from horror to sci-fi/adventure to drama with apparent ease, and the main theme is such an earworm (pun intended if you’ve seen the film) that I was whistling it for 20 minutes after watching for the first time because I couldn’t get it out of my head.

I could go on and on about this movie because it really is so much more than just a sci-fi flick, and the whole crew gives outstanding performances – including a young Kirstie Alley in her first feature film role. There are moments of pure joy as well as scenes that are sure to guarantee tears, and all the while it feels firmly like Star Trek. With strong themes and solid characters, The Wrath of Khan is a prime example of how prioritizing story and characters is the key to success in filmmaking, no matter the subject material at hand.

-Chad

RECOMMEND!

MPAA: PG – for violence and language


Suicide Squad (2016)

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*spoiler-free*

Everyone who sees DC’s latest and greatest film will inevitably compare it to Marvel’s surprising hit Guardians of the Galaxy, which isn’t a completely unfair comparison; after all, both films take social misfits and team them together to fight evil, all with a jukebox playing in the background. Unfortunately, Suicide Squad does this so much less successfully, and it’s largely because of the film’s failure to create an engaging story and inability to make all of its characters interesting.

Suicide Squad opens with government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) proposing that a team of the world’s most dangerous criminals be assembled to fight the next superhuman threat, whatever that may be. The team – comprising of Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Deadshot (Will Smith), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Slipknot (Adam Beach), and Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), along with good-guy Katana (Karen Fukuhara) and led by Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) – is quickly called into action when a supernatural force attacks. With the threat of death looming over their heads for any disobedience, this team of bad guys must work together to do good for the first time in their lives.

THE GOOD

Viola Davis as Waller is probably the second-best part of this movie. Her hard determination to get her way, along with her willingness to do anything necessary for the task at hand, makes her a formidable character who you almost fear more than any of the so-called “bad guys” because you never know how far she’ll go to get what she wants done. Davis has an innate toughness that has always shone through in her acting – even as Aibileen in The Help – and she is able to show with little effort that she is not someone to be messed with. The best part of this movie, however, is Will Smith’s Deadshot. Smith is a fantastic actor, but the best role he plays is himself: goofy, full of attitude, but always grounded, and this movie thankfully gives him the chance to just be himself…and it’s so refreshing! He has many great one-liners here and clearly has a fun time on-screen, but he is also the one that brings the most emotion to the movie, which it sorely needs more of. Deadshot is driven by love for his daughter, and every moment that he spends showing that is both believable and brings tangible stakes to the task at hand.

THE DISAPPOINTING

Harley Quinn was the character I was most looking forward to here, and I was sure that she would be my favorite part…she’s just a fun character! Unfortunately, she was ultimately a let-down for me. Don’t get me wrong: Margot Robbie puts forth an admirable effort, and I certainly wouldn’t call her portrayal “bad,” but it’s Harley’s poor usage in the film that really disappoints me. Though she has her moments to show off – a scene when she takes down a couple of attackers in an elevator by herself comes to mind – her primary roles in this movie are to act as sex object first, Joker’s property second, and strong female character third. There are very few moments during her time on-screen when attention is not being drawn to her short shorts or how attractive she is in general. She is attractive, yes, but why does that have to be her main appeal? The scene in the elevator I mentioned is probably so good because there aren’t any men there to ogle her in that moment, but, sure enough, as soon as the fight is over we’re given a view of her backside as she strides through the crowd of men as they look on incredulously. Had Harley been given more opportunity to just show off how capable she is on her own, I would have liked her much more.

THE NOT-GOOD

Since I was just talking about Harley, I’ll go straight into what I believe was the worst part of this movie: Jared Leto’s Joker. Every promotional shot or trailer that featured this new, psychotic take on the character left a bad taste in my mouth, but I was open to being proven wrong – as I always am when I have preconceived notions – in the context of the movie. And no, this isn’t about comparing it to the late Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight (my review)…Leto’s Joker is, frankly, just bad. I don’t know how else to put it. The Joker has always been about his relationship and back-and-forth with Batman; he does what he does to antagonize the Caped Crusader. It felt strange in this movie to have his character be motivated by his need to rescue own Harley because that’s not who the Joker is. Every scene that has Leto in it suffers because of him, and the story as a whole suffers because his character is largely unnecessary to everything else that is going on.

All the other characters in this movie I have yet to mention are just flat. Uninteresting, unmotivated…just boring. Kinnaman’s Rick Flag finally starts showing some real emotion towards the end of the movie right when the other characters need motivation, but it’s a moment that doesn’t feel earned. Of Killer Croc’s ten total lines, maybe two of them are intelligible. El Diablo’s emotional backstory is not all that emotional either because he spends the whole movie moping in the corner – although, admittedly, his moment in the spotlight during the climax of the movie is pretty cool. The villain, though, who I won’t spoil here, is just a joke. A poor backstory leads to poor motivation, and by the time the climax of the film rolls around you know that our “heroes” are going to win, so there’s no threat or stakes at all to give the fight credibility.

Characters aside, the story and editing are a jumbled mess. The first fifteen minutes or so had me optimistic because it introduces some cool stylistic choices that would have been great had they been featured throughout the rest of the film without being overused, but alas, they disappear without a trace by the 30-minute mark. The fight scenes are basically the same thing regurgigated three times. (For the record, I thought that the climax of the film was overall pretty fun!) The jukebox I mentioned earlier? It seems broken because it changes songs every two minutes; no joke, there are probably 6 songs featured in the first 5 minutes of the movie, and it doesn’t slow down after that. The money that went into music rights would have been better spent on a good musical score, which, unfortunately, doesn’t live up to composer Steven Price’s usual quality.

*rant ahead*

The goal of The Cinescope Podcast is to talk about my favorite movies, and, in general, I aim to be as positive as I can when watching because liking things is more fun than hating them. That being said, I can’t and won’t overlook flaws for the sake of positivity; yes, Suicide Squad does do some things well, however few, and I would argue that it’s not as bad as others might have you believe (RottenTomatoes.com gives it a 26% approval rating, which I think is unfairly low), but the truth of the matter is that it is far from being a good film. Too many issues plague the plot, the editing, the music, and the majority of the characters for me to recommend this movie for everyone.

However, I know some people who did enjoy this movie for what it is, and that does not make them wrong. In fact, that makes them happier because they enjoyed this movie more than I did. So while I may not personally recommend this movie, you need to be the judge for yourself. Movie critics – including myself – do not exist to tell you that you should not see a movie; we love movies just as much as you do. We exist to share our opinions and to generate discussion, so if you feel like seeing a movie because you think you might like it, do it. You be the judge. We’re all critics because we all evaluate what we consume. So go out there, watch movies, and tell us what you think!

-Chad

DOES NOT RECOMMEND

*unless you want to go see it, in which case, do it!

MPAA: PG-13 – for sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content, and language

 


TRON: Legacy (2010)

Note: This film was the main topic of discussion on Episode 1 of my podcast, The Cinescope Podcast. Give it a listen for a more in-depth discussion!

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Back in 1982, Disney released a film that proved to leave a lasting impact in the world of film, making strides in advanced computer graphics technology and laser trail bikes. One of the more notable effects this film had in the industry was showing John Lasseter the possibilities of computer graphics and leading to the eventual success of Pixar. Nearly 30 years after the release of TRON, first-time director Joseph Kosinski was hired to direct the almost $200 million sequel to the dated film, challenged with continuing the story and dazzling with another technological marvel…and he succeeded.

TRON: Legacy opens with young ENCOM CEO Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) explaining to his son Sam the origin of The Grid – a “digital frontier” that resembles a city, a place where programs are anthropomorphized and live their own lives, and where Tron, a protector, and a clone of Flynn called C.L.U. – Codified Likeness Utility  – work together to create and to explore this digital landscape. However, later that night, Flynn disappears from the world without a trace. 20 years pass, and now Sam (Garrett Hedlund), who has distanced himself from his father’s company save for an annual prank, has received a tip from his father’s friend Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) that something may be going on in his father’s office at the now-abandoned arcade that he owned. Upon investigating, something extraordinary happens, thrusting him into the very world that his father described to him as a boy. It becomes a race against time to escape back to the real world, with new faces Quorra (Olivia Wilde) and Castor (Michael Sheen) showing up along the way during Sam’s journey home.

*mild spoilers ahead*

To get it out of the way, I’ll start with the obvious: this film is quite the spectacle to behold, from the glowing blue skyscrapers, to the intimidating flying Recognizers (appearing as a significant upgrade from their original appearance 30 years ago), to the fantastic score composed by Daft Punk and Joseph Trapanese (my review). These are the things that people agree on regarding this film: that it is a visual and auditory treat, showing that every cent of the $200 million budget was put to good use. Concepts introduced in the first film – disc wars, light cycle races, a world that pulses with a vivid energy – are magnified to the nth degree here and, paired with Daft Punk’s infectious music, provide some of the more extravagant action sequences made with digital effects in the last decade. In this movie and in his second feature, Oblivion (my review), director Joseph Kosinski proves he has an talent for creating visuals that are wonders to behold

What people agree on less when it comes to this movie is everything outside of what appeals to the senses: that is, to put it simply, the story and acting. But I would disagree with the majority in saying that there are some great, moving performances that feature here.

At its core, TRON: Legacy is a father/son movie. Garrett Hedlund’s Sam exudes a confidence that masks his vulnerability; after all, this is a character who lost his father when he was 7 years old, and as the film goes on, it is revealed how much he misses him. In a scene where Alan tells Sam of a mysterious message he received from Flynn’s former office, Hedlund’s face expresses so well the pain he feels in wishing that his father was around but knowing that he’s gone forever. Likewise, Jeff Bridges as Kevin Flynn portrays a father who is willing to sacrifice anything for the protection and well-being of his son. In their heartfelt reunion, it’s difficult to not feel a pang when Flynn turns around to instantly recognize his son who was only a child the last time he saw him, collapsing into his arms in a deep embrace. It’s a powerful moment. As the film progresses, so does their relationship, and though they face some tough moments, they prove that they’re there for each other and, more importantly, that they love each other.

Most of the emotional core of this movie comes from those two characters, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Jeff Bridges’ other character, C.L.U., who is our villain. As mentioned before, he is essentially a clone of Flynn, and as such he represents Flynn’s flaws at the time of his inception, namely an inability to recognize that perfection is not an attainable goal. It’s this flaw that helps us to empathize with the character – he’s only doing what he feels is right because it’s what he was created to do, even if it’s contrary to what Flynn himself came to realize as he aged and matured. Despite the motion capture work that doesn’t age quite as well as the rest of the effects in the film, Bridges communicates this conflict very well, culminating in the final bridge scene that shows C.L.U.’s desperation to fulfill his purpose.

It would be a shame if I didn’t give a shoutout to Olivia Wilde’s wonderfully naïve Quorra, who represents the childlike wonder in all of us. One scene has her asking for the description of the sun because she’s never had the chance to experience it, and this pays off in the end of the film when we see her basking in the glow of a warm sunrise. Worth mentioning is Michael Sheen’s quirky Castor, who does little more than strut around talking strangely, but he’s a fun character who appears during one of the film’s dry spells to further along the plot.

TRON: Legacy isn’t a masterpiece of a film that delves into the human condition or anything “deep” like that, but it does have characters whose interactions with each other give us something to connect with. The concept of The Grid and the activities that lie therein are fascinating to me – the very concept of the world is *concept* itself – and the execution of these are what pushes this film into the realm of “enjoyable” for me. While the main attractions certainly are these spectacles and the outstanding soundtrack, if you look for it, there are some great human moments that might make you feel something along the way.

-Chad

RECOMMEND!

MPAA: PG – for sequences of sci-fi action violence and brief mild language


RoboCop (2014)

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I must confess to not having seen the original 1987 RoboCop film, so you unfortunately won’t get a comparison of the old to the new here. However, that also means that this is a review from the perspective of someone who watched the movie just to watch the movie rather than to look for comparisons.

RoboCop stars Joel Kinnaman as police detective Alex Murphy, who is nearly killed by a crime boss for getting too close to his business. Thanks to Raymond Sellers (Michael Keaton) and Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) of OmniCorp, however, what is left of Murphy is merged with the latest robot technology, making him a lean, mean, crime-fighting machine, as well as saving his wife (Abbie Cornish) and son from having to mourn his death. But things get complicated when the question arises: who is more in control – man or robot?

I actually – surprisingly – enjoyed the film. It wasn’t one that I was particularly looking forward to, but I decided to give it a chance and was pleased with the result. Gary Oldman is the standout performance for me; his character’s internal conflict – do I do what’s ethical or what I’m told to do? – is well-acted and makes us sympathize with him rather than hate him for his actions. Michael Keaton as Raymond Sellers is also great. I haven’t seen Keaton in a true “bad guy” role before, though Sellers isn’t a “villain” in the traditional sense…he just wants money. Joel Kinnaman as the eponymous robotic cop does a decent job as a robot, but I didn’t think he played the human side of the character very well, even at the start of the film when he wasn’t yet part robot. He played the character almost completely emotionless, almost to the point that he was completely monotone.

*mild spoilers ahead*

The real problem with this movie is that characters don’t make reasonable decisions. Sellers randomly turns murderous toward the end of the film, which doesn’t make sense, and Murphy’s wife’s reaction to security alarms going off after confronting Sellers is to turn against what she just said about not wanting to see or speak to Sellers again and joining him on the roof, which is mostly just for the convenience of the plot.

That being said, there was a scene or two that got me emotionally involved, such as the scene when Murphy first comes home to his wife and son as family, but that tension is never built upon any further. In fact, there’s a moment in the film when RoboCop, now under the full control of the organization rather than his own free will, is told about his son’s social problems resulting from his father’s absence. This information sparks a change in Murphy, and he returns home, but instead of trying to amend his relationship with his family, he starts investigating his own murder. I would have liked to have seen some sort of reconciliation between him and his family at this point rather than saving it for the very end of the film.

In the end, this movie turns into more of just a generic action movie, albeit a mostly entertaining one. The visuals and technology displayed are impressive, and the action scenes were enjoyable, but too much of the story and character relationships were not given justice. Even the music score by Pedro Bromfman was sort of hit-and-miss for me; he utilizes the original theme from the 1987 film, which just doesn’t make sense to me. If you’re going to reboot a film, why not reboot everything like composers have done with Batman Begins (2005), The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), and Man of Steel (2013)? The theme was too 80s for me, which probably worked for the original film but felt out of place here, as did most of the rest of the score. The themes of biased media, family, and morality that the filmmakers tried to emphasize were not developed as well as they could have been, but, like I said, RoboCop is an at least decent action movie that I thought was fun to watch. I can’t speak to how it compares to the original film, but it’s still worth watching at least once.

-Chad

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for intense sequences of action including frenetic gun violence throughout, brief strong language, sensuality and some drug material