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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!

Tron-Legacy-movie-image-new-collider

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

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We Bought a Zoo (2011)

The only Matt Damon films I had seen before this one were the Bourne trilogy and 2010’s True Grit, so it was nice to see him as a less aggressive, more father-like figure in We Bought a Zoo. This film wasn’t one that I ever got excited for, which is why I just watched it for the first time on Blu-Ray, and now, even after watching, I have mixed feelings.

Based on the memoir of the same name by Benjamin Mee, We Bought a Zoo follows a father (Damon) and his two children six months after the mother has died. They’re still hurting and trying to move on with their lives, so it just seems too perfect when the opportunity to buy a zoo rolls around to give them a fresh start. The 7-year-old daughter, Rosie, is filled with wisdom beyond her years, and not just in the “kids say the darnedest things” sort of way; her father literally goes to her for advice or for serious adult conversation more than once in the film. The son, Dylan, is the typical 14-year-old teenager: filled with angst, thinks his father hates him, etc. He is also a talented artist who has recently begun drawing disturbing images, such as a head being severed from the body. Why a dead mother would warrant such graphic drawings, I’m not sure, but, then again, I’m no psychology expert.

In the zoo, there is an aging Bengal tiger who is just about at the end of his life, but Damon’s character, despite the pleas by the lead zookeeper (Scarlett Johansson), insists on doing whatever he can to prolong this tiger’s life. I think that this is supposed to be a metaphor for his relationship to his dead wife and his unwillingness to let her go, but it’s a weak comparison. At least, I certainly wouldn’t equate ending a dying tiger’s struggle for life to a widower’s struggle to move on after losing his wife, but that’s just me. But alas, with the decision to put the tiger out of his misery comes a mended relationship between father and son and a possibility at new love for Damon’s character.

The dialogue was particularly irritating to me at times, mainly because it used “man” constantly, as if this was The Big Lebowski or something like that. It starts with Thomas Haden Church’s character, brother to Damon’s, calling him “man” all the time, but it gets so bad that, near the end of the film, Damon’s character has a yell match with his son, calling him “man” at least 15 times, give or take a few. Its usage does nothing but distracts…it just makes no sense to me! The score by Jónsi was distracting at times as well, sometimes not matching the scene even remotely. However, when it did match the scene, the music did a nice job of sounding the whimsy of the story.

Anyway, while I did have a lot of complaints, We Bought a Zoo worked well as a family film, with Damon’s performance carrying the film and Johansson doing a decent job. Church’s performance felt forced to me, with the fact that he’s supposed to be playing the brother to the main character being nearly completely lost to me; there’s absolutely no brotherly connection between the two of them. Maggie Elizabeth Jones as Rosie will make you smile frequently with her sweet comments and adorable smile, and the story is saccharine and predictable enough to please just about anyone who enjoys that kind of thing. I didn’t dislike it, but it’s certainly not a movie that I would like to own for myself.

-Chad

Rating: 2.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG – for language and some thematic elements


Tangled (2010) – Alan Menken

Alan Menken’s score for 2010’s Tangled is like a modern update to the scores of the classic Disney films of the 1990s; who better to bring new life to the classic scores than the man who originally scored/wrote songs for The Little MermaidBeauty and the BeastAladdin, PocahontasHercules, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame?

The best part about this score is that the styles vary so completely from track to track. The first instrumental track we hear is titled “Flynn Wanted”, and it manages to effectively capture the swashbuckling, adventurous feel that Eugene Fitzherbert tries to emulate as the thieving Flynn Rider. Two tracks later, “Horse With No Rider” introduces an eerie, anxious theme that serves as a backdrop to Mother Gothel’s realization that Rapunzel may have been found and the subsequent panicked flee back to the tower. And still something different is “Campfire”, in which we hear some subtle hints at the main theme for the musical number “I See the Light”, a play at the budding relationship between our two protagonists. The ending to “The Tear Heals” is filled with the emotion appropriate to the situation; it’s grand, heartfelt, and, to use a bit of a cliche, magical.

Of course, the real highlights of Tangled‘s soundtrack are the musical numbers, which the score only serves as backup to. In “When Will My Life Begin” and its two reprises, we see the main conflict within Rapunzel: her desire to do something with her life other than stay in the tower forever. While I’m not a particular fan of “Mother Knows Best”, it is an appropriate introduction to Mother Gothel, and, even more, a setup for an excellent reprise. “I’ve Got a Dream” is a hilarious, raucous sing-along that shows us that “our differences ain’t really that extreme”. The real standout song of this album, though, is “I See the Light”, a beautiful duet between Rapunzel and Eugene that reminds me of Aladdin‘s “A Whole New World” every time I hear it…but in a good way.

Overall, while the score only features a couple of standout moments (“Kingdom Dance” is my favorite), the musical numbers are what you buy the album for. With fantastic performances by Mandy Moore and Zachery Levi, the score for Tangled is a return to the classic Disney singalong animated film; it’s fun, it’s touching, and it tells a wonderful story.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

  1. “When Will My Life Begin”   2:32
  2. “When Will My Life Begin (Reprise 1)”   1:03
  3. “Mother Knows Best”   3:10
  4. “When Will My Life Begin (Reprise 2)”   2:06
  5. “I’ve Got a Dream”   3:11
  6. “Mother Knows Best (Reprise)”   1:38
  7. “I See the Light”   3:44
  8. “Healing Incantation”   0:54
  9. “Flynn Wanted”   2:51
  10. “Prologue”   2:03
  11. “Horse With No Rider”   1:57
  12. “Escape Route”   1:57
  13. “Campfire”   3:22
  14. “Kingdom Dance”   2:20
  15. “Waiting for the Lights”   2:48
  16. “Return to Mother”   2:07
  17. “Realization and Escape”   5:51
  18. “The Tear Heals”   7:38
  19. “Kingdom Celebration”   1:51
  20. “Something That I Want”   (Grace Potter)   2:43

Total Length: app. 56 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad

P.S. – Read my review of the film here!


Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

Knowing how much I enjoy movies, new and old, you may find it hard to believe that I just saw this classic for the first time tonight. I know, I know, I’m behind the times, but the important thing is that I’ve finally seen it – and I loved it!

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is one of those rare movies that is enjoyable and loads of fun from start to finish, covering all of the stereotypical teenage dreams, from skipping school to jumping fences to joyriding in fancy sports cars. Matthew Broderick in the title role is charismatic and infectious, his charm and humor translating well between both his dialogue with his fellow on-screen actors and his quick side comments to the audience through the fourth wall – a gag that never feels forced or strange. In fact, it’s Broderick’s performance that makes this film work so well; I can’t picture a single actor who could have pulled this off as well as Broderick did.

Broderick isn’t the only actor who shines, though. Jeffrey Jones as Dean Rooney is quirky and amusing. One of the funniest moments of the film is his reaction after talking to “Mr. Peterson” on the phone. He is malicious, scheming, and the only adult suspicious of Ferris. He’s a man who takes his job too seriously…so seriously that he nearly gets himself killed just by trying to catch a kid playing hooky. It’s Rooney’s antics that bring much of the comedy to the film.

The main themes of the film – pursuing freedom and having fun – are pretty obvious, but they aren’t shoved in the faces of the audience, either. Another theme that may not appear as obvious is the theme of finding self-worth. Bueller doesn’t take the day off just for himself, but for his friend Cameron as well, who lives with, to put it simply, awful parents. By the end of the day, Cameron has learned that it is important to realize that your worth as a person isn’t determined by the people around you but rather by your opinion of yourself. Deep themes for a simple enough comedy film.

It was hard to look at Ferris Bueller’s Day Off objectively when I already knew that it was considered a classic, but I don’t think that not knowing that would change my opinion of it; this film is just one of the few that manages to appeal to nearly everyone who watches it, perhaps because we all feel the need to take that one day to drop our responsibilities and just do whatever the heck we want. Ferris helps us to live that out with him and have just as much fun along the ride. Well-deserving of its spot as one of the greatest comedy films of all time, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is film fun that is hard to beat.

-Chad

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for language and some sensuality

Note: As a warning to those few who haven’t seen it, there is a lot of swearing in this film.


A Bug’s Life (1998) – Randy Newman

Disney/Pixar’s A Bug’s Life is one of my favorite of the Pixar soundtracks, and certainly my favorite of Randy Newman’s Pixar scores.

The first song on the album is “The Time of Your Life”, sung by Newman himself, which I had never paid much attention to until tonight; I knew the first line and the chorus, but ignored the rest because I didn’t see how it connected to the film. As it turns out, the lyrics are all about being ambitious and pursuing what you love; in other words, it describes Flik in the film. Who’d have thought it, eh? The song itself is catchy, and it’s heavily referenced in the orchestral score in tracks like “Seed to Tree” and “Flik Leaves” – both of which are meant to foreshadow Flik’s rise to greatness as the film progresses.

Newman plays around with leitmotifs, composing an industrial, hip-sounding theme for Flik’s grain-harvesting machine and for the city (“The Flik Machine”, “The City”), a sort of “aggression” theme heard in “The Bird Flies” and “Ants Fight Back”, a gypsy-like theme for the circus bugs introduced in “Circus Bugs” and hinted at again in “Loser”, and a few other various themes heard throughout. The way each of these leitmotifs is interlaced into the score is like a game of tug-of-war; each melody is designed to pull your attention to the character(s) they represent, and they each take turns pulling your attention back and forth.

Since this was only Newman’s second Pixar film score, most of the material in A Bug’s Life is pretty original, minus a bit of the filler music (non-thematic material) that resembles his score to Toy Story. Newman’s score brings a sense of grandeur to a world that we rarely think about because of how minuscule it is, showing that, while our world may be big to us, it’s even bigger to a bug; they can have big adventures too! My favorite track is the last one on the album, “A Bug’s Life Suite”, because it contains all of the main themes heard throughout the film…seriously, go listen to that! All film soundtracks should be required to have suites/overtures.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

1. “The Time of Your Life” (performed by Newman) 3:16
2. “The Flik Machine” 2:54
3. “Seed to Tree” 1:01
4. “Red Alert” 1:49
5. “Hopper and his Gang” 3:21
6. “Flik Leaves” 2:37
7. “Circus Bugs” 1:27
8. “The City” 2:35
9. “Robin Hood” 0:59
10. “Return to Colony” 1:33
11. “Flik’s Return” 1:24
12. “Loser” 2:43
13. “Dot’s Rescue” 4:00
14. “Atta” 1:08
15. “Don’t Come Back” 1:07
16. “Grasshoppers’ Return” 3:01
17. “The Bird Flies” 2:38
18. “Ants Fight Back” 2:14
19. “Victory” 2:33
20. “A Bug’s Life Suite” 5:12

Total Length: app. 48 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad


The Bourne Legacy (2012)

I would love to sit here and tell you all that The Bourne Legacy was just as good as any film in the original Damon trilogy, but, unfortunately, I can’t. While I did enjoy it, this is one of those films in which the bad or not-so-great outweighs the good.

*mild spoilers ahead*

The plot was weak and confusing; the entire first half of the film had me wondering what was happening, who was who, and why certain decisions were being made. While this wouldn’t have been a problem if all of my questions had been answered later in the film, most of them weren’t. I think that the film suffered from being set within the timeline of the original trilogy; references would have been fine, but this film takes place during and immediately after the third film, making things feel forced and a bit rushed. It would have been better to see the main character as a member of a completely separate, unrelated-to-Bourne project so that the film could be viewed less as a sequel and more as a continuation with a new focus.

I also wasn’t a huge fan of the whole “chemically-altered super-human” part of the story…it worked for Captain America because he is a superhero set in a different universe with different rules than ours. While this type of chemical altering may eventually become reality in our own universe, it just feels silly in the context of the film; a super-human doesn’t have the same appeal as a highly-gifted and intensely-trained person in a non-superhero world.

I enjoyed Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross, but I felt that the character’s “motivation” was not adequate enough to justify the full movie. It is not the attempt on his life that motivates him (at least, it doesn’t feel like it is), but, rather, his dependency on some pills distributed by the organization he works for that seems to push him into action; the entire middle portion of the film is watching Cross find a way to get his hands on some of these pills. I also had a problem with Rachel Weisz’s character, Dr. Marta Shearling, a woman who seems to take no issue with the fact that Cross is capable of fighting and killing with apparent ease…there’s not even a moment’s flicker of doubt as she continues on her journey with this violent man. In The Bourne Identity, Marie tried to run away from Jason Bourne when she found out who he was and what he was capable of, only staying because Bourne convinces her that she needs him to survive…for at least a little while. There’s a moment that is sort of like this in The Bourne Legacy, but it is subdued and less effective. She asks no questions and makes no attempts to flee.

Though the character wasn’t as fleshed out as he could have been in the script, Renner as Aaron Cross worked wonderfully as the follow-up to Damon’s Bourne. Renner plays the character with a resolve that almost makes you forgive the rocky motivations that Cross acts on. Edward Norton was excellent in this film. His character, Eric Byer, is in charge of cleaning up after the CIA’s “Treadstone” and “Blackbriar” programs (the programs that created/tried to kill Bourne, respectfully). He’s got a sharp tongue, a firm authority, and a sense of urgency that you can’t help but admire. Another bright part of the movie was the action; Jeremy Renner did a great job with the physical aspect of the character as well, giving us fight scenes that, while not as inspired as the first fights in The Bourne Identity, entertain without becoming too much of a good thing…with one exception. The last twenty minutes or so of the film consists of one overly gratuitous chase sequence…it just takes way too long.

*end spoilers*

Let’s face it: The Bourne Legacy had quite a – well – legacy to live up to. The original trilogy starring Matt Damon in the title role was excellent in terms of plot, character development, emotion, and action. Unfortunately, Legacy fell short in just about every regard, but just because it isn’t as good as the original trilogy doesn’t mean that it isn’t enjoyable – because it is. The Bourne Legacy delivers plenty in the way of action and humor, and, after his brief screen time in The Avengers earlier this year and his supporting role in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, it was nice to see Jeremy Renner as the main protagonist. Boosted along by a fantastic score by James Newton Howard, The Bourne Legacy may disappoint die-hard fans of the original trilogy, but it is still a fairly entertaining summer action film that will please the average moviegoer.

Rating: 2 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for violence and action sequences

P.S. – Read my review of this film’s score, composed by James Newton Howard, here!


Rocky (1976) – Bill Conti

Bill Conti’s score to Rocky is most remembered for the main title, “Gonna Fly Now (Theme from Rocky)”, and for a good reason: essentially, when you break each of the tracks on this album down into their core elements, it is easy to hear that “Gonna Fly Now” serves as the foundation for every single (non-vocal) track on this album.

While, yes, all of these tracks are based around “Gonna Fly Now”, Bill Conti does a nice job with individualizing each track enough to make them stand out on their own merits. For example, “Philadelphia Morning” contains the main theme played mellowly on a piano, while “Butkus” is a bit of a jazzy rendition of the same theme. “Alone in the Ring” is also played on the piano, but it is weighted with contemplation and hope, and “The Final Bell” is, in my opinion, one of the best victory songs of all time. There’s not much more to say…I’ve pretty much said it all. Literally every single instrumental track follows along those same lines.

Though you might think that hearing “Gonna Fly Now” over and over again, albeit in different variations, would be boring, Bill Conti manages to keep it somewhat fresh throughout, supplying a decent score to one of the most beloved sports movies of all time. Despite that, though, it’s the lack of completely original material from track to track – as well as the fact that, at only 32 minutes long, it is a depressingly short score – that prevents Rocky from getting a higher rating from me.

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

  1. “Gonna Fly Now (Theme from Rocky)” (vocals: DeEtta Little/Nelson Pigford) – 2:48
  2. “Philadelphia Morning” – 2:22
  3. “Going the Distance” – 2:39
  4. “Reflections” – 3:19
  5. “Marines’ Hymn/Yankee Doodle” – 1:44
  6. “Take You Back (Street Corner Song from Rocky)” (vocals: Valentine) – 1:49
  7. “First Date” – 1:53
  8. “You Take My Heart Away” (vocals: DeEtta Little/Nelson Pigford) – 4:46
  9. “Fanfare for Rocky” – 2:35
  10. “Butkus” – 2:12
  11. “Alone in the Ring” – 1:10
  12. “The Final Bell” – 1:56
  13. “Rocky’s Reward” – 2:02

Total Length: app. 32 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad