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!
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.
MPAA: PG – for sequences of sci-fi action violence and brief mild language
Leave a comment | tags: bruce boxleitner, chadadada, chadlikesmovies, cinescope, daft punk, derezzed, Disney, end of line, garrett hedlund, jeff bridges, joseph kosinski, joseph trapanese, m83, michael sheen, oblivion, olivia wilde, podcast, tron, tron legacy | posted in Entertainment, Film, Film Reviews, Movies, Music, Recommended, Recommended, Scores, The Cinescope Podcast
The delay in me typing this up comes from the fact that there are still a few major films from 2013 that I have yet to see – American Hustle, Her, Inside Llewyn Davis, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Wolf of Wall Street (though I’m thinking I won’t see the latter due to excessive sexual content). That being said, I wanted to go ahead and tackle what I have seen before too much of 2014 passes, so just know that, if I see these films and find them worthy of this list, I will update it and let you all know.
2013 was a pretty great year for me. I saw more films than ever before, largely due to my involvement in The MovieByte Podcast with my friend TJ. If I totaled everything correctly, I saw 40 new films this year in theaters, so this list is drawing from a pretty wide selection.
An important note: this is a list of favorite films, which may conflict with my ratings. My ratings are usually based on a combination of both quality and enjoyment, whereas this list will mostly be based on enjoyment with quality mixed in just a bit. Click on the titles to see my reviews for each film. With that said, let’s get started with number 10:
Honorable Mention – Thor: The Dark World
After the mediocre first Thor film, I was hoping for a much better second film, which we thankfully got in Thor: The Dark World. Chris Hemsworth is an excellent Thor, made better by the fact that we’re not establishing an origin anymore. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki continues to impress as well, this time as an ally, bringing an interesting twist to the character and allowing for a fun and occasionally potent brother-to-brother relationship. Brian Tyler’s score is just as fun as the movie itself, and Christopher Eccleston’s villain Malekith is appropriately menacing, if a bit vague in intention.
I love Disney films, especially musical ones, because they remind me of my childhood, when The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast (my review), and Aladdin were supreme. Frozen reminds me of those 1990s Disney movies, but this time with a nice twist at the end – which I won’t spoil for you. The voice cast is incredible here, namely Kristen Bell as Anna and Josh Gad as Olaf the Snowman, with Idina Menzel’s “Let It Go” set to be a surefire nominee for Best Original Song at this year’s Academy Awards – and, I’ll call it now, it’ll win too. The animation is beautiful, the story is touching, and you’ll walk out whistling the songs, wanting to watch it again and again.
9. 12 Years a Slave
This film is difficult to rank because, while it’s certainly a 5-star film, it’s also difficult to watch. Chiwetel Ejiofor gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Solomon Northup, a free black man who is kidnapped and sold into slavery for twelve long years. The film covers his incredibly painful time spent on a plantation in Louisiana, where he meets good people, bad people, and fellow slaves who are also struggling for their lives. Director Steve McQueen doesn’t shy away from the harsh truths of slavery and how brutal the slave owners often were, making this film exceptionally powerful and a must-watch – if you can stomach it.
8. Ender’s Game
I read Orson Scott Card’s classic book in anticipation of this film, so it was fresh on my mind when I walked into the theater. As expected, the book is much better and much of the content in the film is watered down, but that doesn’t stop the film from being pretty excellent on its own. For the most part, it keeps the themes of morality and unnecessary violence intact, and Asa Butterfield as the eponymous Ender does a fantastic job of capturing the character, from his calm control in stressful situations to his intense emotional outbursts upon the realizations of what has happened to him. The visuals in this movie are gorgeous, with scenes from the book, such as the armies in the Battle Room, flying right off the page in a great way.
7. The Book Thief
I also read Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief before seeing the film based on it, and many of my criticisms are the same as for Ender’s Game in regards to the watering down of content and such, but that doesn’t stop this film from being an emotional punch to the gut. Sophie Nélisse is outstanding as Liesel Meminger, as are her parents, Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson. The period setting of the film is well-done, and John Williams delivers as intimate and beautiful a score as ever. Bring a box of tissues for this one…maybe two.
6. Captain Phillips
In this film, Tom Hanks has the best performance of his life…for, what, the fifth time now? Man, he continues to prove that he’s one of the best actors out there. Captain Phillips tells the true story of how Somalian pirates attacked the Maersk Alabama but were thwarted by Captain Richard Phillips, who not only protected everyone on board with his actions but also offered himself as hostage to continue that protection. Barkhad Abdi plays the lead pirate, who isn’t portrayed as a bad guy but rather as a guy forced to do bad things due to unfortunate social circumstances. There isn’t a bad guy here, not really – at least, that’s not how the film portrays the pirates – but there is simply reality and suspense that rises from it. The long run-time never feels too long as you are caught up in the action from start to finish, and if Tom Hanks doesn’t win the Academy Award for Best Actor, it’ll only be because he lost it to Chiwetel Ejiofor.
5. Saving Mr. Banks
Emma Thompson shines in this historical film about the making of the 1964 Disney film, Mary Poppins, based on the book series by P. L. Travers. Thompson’s portrayal of the stubborn author is both quirky and humorous, but it’s also heartbreaking in her remembrance of moments in her childhood that inspired her books. Colin Farrell plays her father in these flashbacks, juxtaposing a happy-go-lucky father with a down-on-his-luck drunkard, giving us insight into Mary Poppins and the Banks family that I was not previously familiar with. Tom Hanks plays an admirable Walt Disney, even if his performance doesn’t convince me enough that I am watching Walt himself rather than Hanks playing him. Still, the charm of the movie as a whole as well as Thompson’s performance knock this film out of the park. (You should probably bring tissues to this one as well.)
I had a self-imposed boycott on Tom Cruise’s films for quite a long time, but since lifting it for 2011’s Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (my review) he has quickly become one of my favorite actors. His performance here is great, as is Andrea Riseborough’s performance as his partner, but it’s the themes and questions raised by the film that bring Oblivion so far to the top of my list. Themes of asking questions, seeking answers, and the thirst for knowledge vs. the fear of knowledge are brought to the forefront, and, for some reason, it really resonated with me. The script is smart, Tom Cruise is as great as ever, and the score by M83 is energetic and fun, in the same vein as Daft Punk’s score for TRON: Legacy (my review), which was directed by the same man, Joseph Kosinski. This film not only shows off Tom Cruise’s continuing capabilities as an action star, but his talents as a dramatic actor as well.
3. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
As far as book-to-film adaptations go, 2012’s The Hunger Games (my review) was one of the best I’d seen, but it still had problems. Director Gary Ross’ replacement by Francis Lawrence for the second film seemed worrying at first, but it seemed to pay off. Not only is Catching Fire a better film than the first one, but it’s also a better adaptation of its book counterpart, which is hard to believe. In fact, if I may be so bold, I think that I enjoyed the film more than the book, at least as far as the opening scenes involving the Victory Tour go, which I know is probably blasphemy. Jennifer Lawrence is surely one of the best actresses out there today as evidenced by her continued terrific performance as Katniss Everdeen. The stakes of this film are higher than in the first, and the character development is even better than the already-good character development of the first film. The shaky-cam is gone in favor of better choreographed action scenes, and, in fact, nearly every aspect of the first film is improved upon this time around. This is an excellent film whether you’ve read the books or not.
If you didn’t catch this film in theaters, I’m sorry. You missed out. Maybe they’ll bring it back for a few extra showings before the Academy Awards, in which case you should buy a ticket as soon as they’re available. Though this film is great all-around, from the performance of Sandra Bullock to the music by Steven Price to the brilliant visuals of space, the real thrill comes from the thrill of total immersion. You seem to experience everything that Bullock’s character experiences, from spinning around in the vacuum of space to the rush of being trapped in a shower of incoming deadly space debris. The theater experience makes an already-great film even better by involving the audience fully in the action and atmosphere – or lack thereof – of space.
1. The Way, Way Back
I love, love, love this film. Love it. I caught an early screening about a month before it reached theaters and subsequently paid to see it twice more. I purchased it on Blu-Ray the day it became available and have watched it three times more since then, and I have yet to tire of it. The Way, Way Back is a coming-of-age film about Duncan, played by Liam James, who is the most perfectly, believably awkward person I’ve ever seen onscreen, which is exactly how his character should be. The growth of his character throughout the film is equally fun and touching, contrasted by Steve Carell’s portrayal of Duncan’s awful stepfather, a role refreshingly atypical of Carell’s usual fare. However, the standout performance in this film is that of Sam Rockwell as Owen, a local waterpark owner who befriends Duncan and helps him to make his summer one of the best of his life. Rockwell brings many laugh-out-loud moments, but he also brings the most poignant moments of the film. The moral is great, and the ride is a great one. I don’t think I could possibly over-recommend this movie.
Well, there you have it. Do you agree or disagree with my list? What were your favorite films of 2013? Sound off in the comments – I’d love to hear your opinions.
Here’s to 2014 – another great year for movies!
Leave a comment | tags: 12 years a slave, academy award for best actor, academy award for best actress, academy award for best original song, Academy Awards, Aladdin, alfonso cuaron, american hustle, andrea riseborough, andrew wiggin, animation, anna, asa butterfield, barkhad abdi, battle room, Beauty and the Beast, best original song, brian tyler, captain phillips, captain richard phillips, catching fire, chiwetel ejiofor, chris hemsworth, christopher eccleston, colin farrell, daft punk, Disney, disney animation, elsa, emily watson, emma thompson, ender wiggin, ender's game, francis lawrence, frozen, gary ross, geoffrey rush, george clooney, gravity, her, idina menzel, inside llewyn davis, jennifer lawrence, John Williams, joseph kosinski, josh gad, josh hutcherson, katniss everdeen, kristen bell, let it go, liam james, liesel meminger, loki, m83, maersk alabama, malekith, markus zusak, Mary Poppins, maya rudolph, mission impossible, mission impossible: ghost protocol, moviebyte, musical, oblivion, olaf the snowman, orson scott card, Oscars, p. l. travers, peeta mellark, pl travers, richard phillips, sam rockwell, sandra bullock, saving mr. banks, slavery, solomon northup, Somalia, somalian pirates, sophie nélisse, steve carell, steve mcqueen, steven price, the book thief, The Hunger Games, the hunger games: catching fire, the lion king, the moviebyte podcast, the secret life of walter mitty, the way way back, the wolf of wall street, Thor, thor the dark world, tom cruise, tom hanks, tom hiddleston, top ten, top ten 2013, top ten films, top ten movies, travers goff, tron legacy, twelve years a slave, victory tour, walt disney | posted in Books, Entertainment, Film, Film Reviews, Movies, Music, Scores
In 2010, electronic music group Daft Punk collaborated with Joseph Trapanese on the score for director Joseph Kosinski’s first directorial effort, TRON: Legacy. This year, Trapanese is back with a new collaboration for a Kosinski film, this time with Anthony Gonzalez of M83. Like the score to TRON: Legacy (my review), the focus is on a more electronic sound mixed with traditional orchestration, and the result is quite satisfactory.
The second track of the album, “Waking Up,” perfectly communicates the grandeur of the film, albeit an empty grandeur, if that makes sense. In fact, much of this score gives us a glimpse into the largeness of the world and the hugely epic moments, such as in “Drone Attack” and “Canyon Battle.” Tracks like “Losing Control” are a bit more muted, but the anxious undertones of low strings and electronic pulse with the overlaying high strings become more and more aggressive before being joined by the brass in a dramatic sort of fanfare that seems to emulate all of Jack Harper’s questions and doubts as he struggles to find his place in this world. “Radiation Zone” is incredibly dissonant and becomes more and more agitated, representing the conflict Jack faces in crossing into the radiation zone and the surprises he encounters there.
One thing I liked about this film, though, was its ability to move effortlessly from big, majestic sets and action scenes to the more intimate moments of contemplation and searching for answers, which the score does great as well. The opening track of the album, “Jack’s Dream,” sounds appropriately ethereal, representing the fuzziness of Jack’s “memories,” and “Horatius,” is filled with a constant pulse that drives it forward, but the quieter nature of the track fuels Harper’s question-asking. The following track, “StarWaves,” is much more personal, acting as background music to a scene between Jack and Victoria in the swimming pool. One of the final tracks on the album, “Undimmed By Time, Unbound By Death,” seems to almost be a reference to the title track from Chariots of Fire, composed by Vangelis; both tracks feature an electronic opening before transitioning into a piano-based theme, though the Oblivion track is decidedly more muted (and less likely to be the go-to song for clips of people running).
Those of you who have read my previous soundtrack reviews know that one thing I always harp on is composers who reuse themes from their previous film scores. While Daft Punk and M83 were credited as the main composers for TRON: Legacy and Oblivion, respectively, Joseph Trapanese had a hand in both compositions, and you can hear some similarities between the two. Thankfully, though, nothing is blatant enough to point out, with the fact that TRON: Legacy‘s score is a bit more electronic-based and Oblivion‘s is more orchestra-based, effectively distancing the two to make them stand out on their own merits.
A film score’s goal is to make the film it accompanies even better and to enhance the emotions and action shown on screen; for the most part, the score to Oblivion does its job. There were one or two instances while watching the film when I thought that the music could have taken a little bit more of a backseat to the visuals and dialogue, but those thoughts never lasted long because of how fun the music is. The bonus goal of a film score is to be entertaining when listened to outside of the film, and there’s no doubt that Gonzales and Trapanese have accomplished that here as well. M83’s score to Oblivion manages to continue the recent positive trend of famous music groups composing for films in a great way.
Note: I purchased the Deluxe Edition of the album on iTunes. For only $3 more, you get more than 45 additional minutes of music. Completely worth it!
Rating: 4 (out of 5)
1. “Jack’s Dream” 1:30
2. “Waking Up” 4:18
3. “Supercell” 4:19
4. “Tech 49” 6:01
5. “The Library” 3:27
6. “Horatius” 2:31
7. “StarWaves” 3:41
8. “Hydrorig” 2:23
9. “Crater Lake” 1:28
10. “Unidentified Object” 2:32
11. “Odyssey Rescue” 4:12
12. “Return from Delta” 2:22
13. “Retrieval” 6:48
14. “Earth 2077” 2:23
15. “Revelations” 1:43
16. “Drone Attack” 3:26
17. “Return to Empire State” 6:41
18. “Losing Control” 3:57
19. “Canyon Battle” 5:58
20. “Radiation Zone” 4:12
21. “You Can’t Save Her” 4:59
22. “Welcome Back” 1:47
23. “Raven Rock” 4:35
24. “Knife Fight In a Phone Booth” 4:39
25. “I’m Sending You Away” 5:40
26. “Ashes of Our Fathers” 3:32
27. “Temples of Our Gods” 3:16
28. “Fearful Odds” 3:11
29. “Undimmed By Time, Unbound By Death” 2:27
30. “Oblivion (feat. Susanne Sundfør)” 5:57
Total Length: app. 114 min.
iTunes Album Link
P.S. – Read my review of this film here!
1 Comment | tags: anthony gonzalez, chariots of fire, daft punk, deluxe edition, iTunes, jack harper, joseph kosinski, joseph trapanese, m83, oblivion, tom cruise, tron, tron legacy, vangelis | posted in 4, Entertainment, Film, Movies, Music, Scores, Soundtrack Reviews
Joseph Kosinski’s first directorial effort was 2010’s TRON: Legacy, a film that, despite how much I enjoyed it, was only decent. His second directorial effort, as well as his first to write and produce, is Oblivion, which, due to my enjoyment of TRON: Legacy, I was actually looking forward to quite a bit, especially since I have been enlightened to the acting talent of Tom Cruise in the last year. I listened to the soundtrack for the film by M83 and Joseph Trapanese for a full week and a half in anticipation. I must admit that I still only expected this to be a decent film, but, thankfully, this was a rare instance in which my expectations were exceeded.
Oblivion tells the story of Jack Harper (Cruise) and his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) as they live on a post-apocalyptic Earth. We are told that aliens invaded sixty years prior to the events of the film, but the humans won in nuclear war, leaving the Earth ravaged and forcing the humans to evacuate to Titan, one of Saturn’s moons. Jack is a repair technician who repairs drones that protect hydrorigs, which are sucking up Earth’s water to transport to Saturn, acting on orders rather than memory; he was forced to have his mind wiped fifteen years previously, though he still has vague recollections of a past that he doesn’t remember. He collects books that he finds and imagines what the world was like before all of this, but his partner is content to follow orders – two more weeks until the two of them get to join the rest of the human population on Titan. But when a space module crash lands and Jack pulls a survivor (Olga Kurylenko) from the wreckage before the “scavs” (remaining aliens from the war who sabotage the drones and hydrorigs) can get to her, he asks more questions than ever, throwing his and Victoria’s world into even further disarray.
Sound complicated? It is, a bit, but I never found the film’s complexities to be a burden. In fact, I sat on the edge of my seat the whole time, eagerly asking myself, “What’s going to happen next? How are they going to resolve this? Why did that just happen? What does this mean?” Cruise is the obvious highlight of this film, bringing his usual talent for action along with appropriate drama and a refreshing humanity that we don’t always see from him. Andrea Riseborough as Victoria, Harper’s partner and lover, gives a powerfully emotional performance as the sort of voice of reason, the one who is only interested in doing what she’s told rather than asking questions. Morgan Freeman’s brief but incredibly important role as Malcolm Beech, leader of an underground resistance, plays into Freeman’s typical “father figure” sort of role, but it doesn’t feel canned, and Olga Kurylenko as Julia, the survivor from the space module, gives a decent performance as well.
The story is somewhat reminiscent of Pixar’s Wall•E, though I won’t explain all the similarities here lest I spoil the film for you. The themes of asking questions/searching for answers and thirsting for knowledge vs. the fear of knowledge are powerful and well-represented here, with symbolism running rampant. For example, Jack Harper has a secret cabin on a plot of green earth near a pond that he found; this is where he stores the books that he finds, from medical dictionaries to Horatius to A Tale of Two Cities. This area is the obvious representation of the previously mentioned thirst for knowledge. There is also one moment where Harper presents Victoria with a can containing a flower that he has cared for, but she promptly tosses it out the window, citing regulation and contamination (there’s an obvious Wall•E parallel), which is representative of her fear of knowledge.
Ever since I walked out of the theater, I’ve been debating what rating to give this film. I knew it was at least a 4/5, though I thought it could easily be a 4.5 as well. I wanted to give it 5/5, though I know it’s certainly not a perfect movie. However, given my enjoyment of it, I think that a 5 is a perfectly reasonable rating; it’s got a smart script, a capable and talented cast, an appropriate score by M83 (assisted by Joseph Trapanese), and it asks questions that we can all learn from. Despite its flaws, Oblivion is a fantastic film, proving that 1) Cruise is not only a wonderful action star but also a capable dramatic actor and that 2) Kosinksi has a lot of future potential as a great film director.
Rating: 5 (out of 5)
MPAA: PG-13 – for sci-fi action violence, brief strong language, and some sensuality/nudity
P.S. – Read my review of this film’s score, composed by M83, here!
5 Comments | tags: a tale of two cities, andrea riseborough, horatius, hydrorig, jack harper, joseph kosinski, joseph trapanese, m83, moon, morgan freeman, nuclear war, oblivion, olga kurylenko, Pixar, post-apocalypic, saturn, titan, tom cruise, tron, tron legacy, wall-e | posted in 5, Entertainment, Film, Film Reviews, Movies, Music, Scores