Friday, December 17, 2010

Change the scheme! Alter the mood! Electrify the boys and girls if you'd be so kind.

Hello I am the movie encyclopedia and if no one else will see it, I will.

Tron has always had a special place in my heart. Despite it's extremely dated graphics (compared to today's standards at least) and it's pretty cheesy dialogue, I always enjoyed the story and the acting, especially that of Jeff Bridges. For a young gaming nerd like myself it was a dream movie. But unlike Star Wars/Trek and some of the other sci-films I loved from my youth, Tron seemed to disappear from the minds of most movie goers. If you asked them they would probably remember it, but it would take a second. Maybe it was because the impact of Tron wasn't as significant as that of Star Wars or Alien but if you ask me it was because Disney was ashamed of the movie. Why? Well in recent months there has been news about the original Tron's conversion to Blu-ray and it being done and released just in time for the second movie's release. Well Disney wasn't having any of that because it halted the films release and pushed it back to an undisclosed date "in the future." On top of that, the once easy to find Tron on DVD, became a rare find that would cost more than 100 dollars to buy from most major online retailers. And how did it become so rare? Disney stopped making copies of the film. It was fine releasing Snow White for the 5th time but not Tron? There's something wrong there.

But enough of my ranting, you came here for a reason, that reason being to hear my thoughts on the second Tron movie, Tron: Legacy. As a fanboy of the original you probably think I'm just going to give this 5 stars and gush about how great it was. But you would be wrong. While Tron: Legacy is by no means a bad film, it is far from perfect and in some ways is a letdown for those who waited all this time for a sequel.
The film's story begins a few years after the original movie. Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) escaped the grid and became CEO of ENCOM. In this time he has also pimped the hell out of Tron, releasing video games, toys, and even a movie (cough cough) detailing his adventures in the grid. He's also had a son named Sam, who's extremely fascinated by the grid and one day hopes to follow in his father's footsteps by taking over ENCOM and going into the grid himself. We come into the movie as Kevin re-tells the story of Tron to Sam, right before he leaves to go to work. Kevin leaves and is never seen or heard from again. This devastates the young Sam and despite being the major shareholder of the company, he refuses to take control of ENCOM, even sabatoging it on occasion, almost out of spite for his father's leaving.

One day, right after Sam (Garret Hedlund) gets done sabatoging the newest edition of ENCOM's software by releasing it free to the public (much to the chagrin of the executives), Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) comes to Sam and says that he got a message from his father and that he should go to the arcade and see what it's all about. It turns out to be a trap as Sam is sucked into the grid, just like his dad.

This is when the film gets it's first major fault: the plot after Sam enters the grid. At first glance it seems pretty straightforward, but the more you think about it, the more complicated it really is. The film is so pre-ocupied with it's own lore and how every little thing works, that it can become lost on even the biggest Tron fan. Unless you've read every book or played every game, you will scratch your head at some of the elements of the story. It's not a terrible story per se but there are a lot of moments that are just people explaining the world in great detail. These pad out a lot of the middle part of the grid story and become kind of a chore to watch. If not for Bridges being as great of an actor as he was, I honestly would have fallen asleep.
Since I'm on the topic, acting is a also a bit of a high and low spot for the movie. Bridges, as the mysterious creator Kevin Flynn as well as the main villain CLU 2.0 (they Zemmeckisized him to make him look 30 years old) is great in both roles, playing the malicious dictator and the zen master perfectly. Olivia Wilde is also great, although the writers seem at a bit of a loss as to what to do with her. Most of the time she is just eye candy, staring blankly into space or at Sam and Kevin. But when she does do something she is quite good and it only solidifies my feelings that she is someone who will seriously become a major acting threat in the years to come. But this is where the praise stops. Garret Hedlund as Sam is just plain boring. He's as interesting as dry wall. He delivers his lines fine but there is no umph to him. Bridges just acts circles around him almost to the point of embarrasment.

But the biggest acting blunder is Michael Sheen as Zeus/Castor. Sheen himself is a great actor and I've loved most of his work. But in his 10 or so minutes on screen, he sucks the life out of the movie almost completely and is almost painfully awkward to watch. Imagine Ziggy Stardust with the personality of Jack Sparrow, Alex from Clockwork Orange and Drop Dead Fred combined. While he does deliver one of my favorite lines in the film, almost all of his dialogue is poor attempts at humor mixed with really painful wordplay. His attempts at being clever fail epically and he really almost ruins the movie. That being said his role is short (thank God) and wasn't dragged on for too long.

My only other complaint is that the 3D is used almost exclusivly for depth and not for any real in your face kind of action. The depth is cool but to a lot of people, myself included, the 3D needed more to be significant. The visuals themself though are quite astounding and are almost breathtaking to watch. A lot of time and effort was put into making the visuals as crisp and as beautiful as possible. Colors pop, derezzes are fun to watch, aircrafts and trains look out of this world and the world itself just has a sense of epicness. Throw in one of the best soundtracks I've ever heard by the amazingly talented Daft Punk and I'm willing to forgive the 3D's lack of creativity.

It may not be the spectacular follow up I was hoping for but in the end Tron: Legacy is an enjoyable film and one that I don't regret spending money on. Will I remember it 10 years from now like I will the original? Probably not. But considering the shoes they had  to fill, I respect Disney for at least trying to bring Tron back into the limelight, even if it's only for a brief moment. Oh well...back to the grid I go.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

"Who are you, and how did you find me? " "I know not who you are, nor how I came to find you, but may I just say... Hi. How you doin'? "

 Hello I am the movie encyclopedia and if no one else will see it, I will.

You know what never gets old? The look on people's faces when I say I love the Disney Princess movies. It's a confused look mixed with a hint of concern. If you don't know me it's usually followed up with either "Are you gay" or "Were you forced to watch them" but those who do know me well enough are like "Okay." But it's funny whenever I pop that little trivia out because it seems if your a guy (at least in this day and age) you can't like the Princess movies without garnering some attention.

Why does that little factoid matter? Well it's the look I got from the guy at the box office when I got my tickets to Disney's latest animated film Tangled. Created by Disney legends Glen Keane, John Lasseter, and Byron Howard, Tangled is the re-imagining of the classic tale of Rapunzel and follows the Grimm version closer then any other version I've read. It stars Mandy Moore as the titular character, Zachary Levi as the dashing Flynn Rider and Donna Murphy as the evil Mother Gothel. One interesting note, besides this being Disney Animation Studios 50th film, is that this is the first CGI Disney Princess film. Maybe ol Lasseter is rubbing off on them.
 The plot is familiar to those who have read the tale but it does put it's own unique spin on things. A single drop of sunlight creates a magical healing flower that can make someone young forever if you sing a special song. Mother Gothel, an evil old hag, finds it and hides it from everyone. Meanwhile at the castle, the Queen about to have her baby but gets really sick. The only cure it seems is the flower and in a moment of clumsiness, Gothel knocks the cage hiding the flower over and the guards take the flower. The Queen gives birth to a girl, whose hair now has the powers of the flower. Soon after she is born Gothel steals her and uses her hair as a lifetime supply of youth, which the girl seems to not notice since Gothel puts on the ruse of being the girl's mother.

There is one hitch in Gothel's plan though: the kingdom releases lanterns into the sky and this fascinates Rapunzel to no end, so much so she's made it her mission in life to see them up close. Flashforward 18 or so years and Rapunzel is grown up and wants to leave. Gothel is against this obviously but with the help of a thief named Flynn Rider, who happens upon her tower after stealing a tiara, Rapunzel leaves and ventures with Flynn, who agrees to help on the basis that he gets said tiara back.
 The story and writing is probably one of the movies biggest triumphs. The story is something we've all heard to the point of punchline but it feels fresh and original enough that we never really get bored with the story. For one Rapunzel is no pushover. She is a spunky little thing who can use her hair as a multi-tool and really likes getting her way (to a point...I mean she's not rude about it). The character of Flynn is also a real character and not a caricature of a prince or hero type we've seen before. He's not that strong but what he lacks in strength he makes up for in charm, wit and street smarts. Imagine a animated Nathan Drake of sorts for those who know what I'm talking about. The only static characters it seems are the Royal Family (who never speak oddly) and Gothel. Although with her it's understandable since without an established villain, it wouldn't be a Disney Princess movie.

The writing is really brought out well thanks to the superb voice-work throughout. Mandy Moore is great as Rapunzel, mixing elements of classic Princesses as well as the modern teenage girl. She has the big singing voice and bright eyed perkiness we're used to, but it's grounded by her wit, wild mood swings (one of the biggest laughs for me) and her sass. She's also not pining over a man either with her eventual (come on did you really think otherwise) relationship actually feeling organic. Levi is great as well and further proves that he is someone to really look out for in the future, whether voice-work in this film or on television with Chuck. He has great comedic timing and charm but also a sensitivity that some comedic actors don't have. Murphy is good as well but she does feel a bit like all other Disney villains...well maybe a little more neurotic but still familiar.

The one problem I had with this movie was the music. I love musicals and some of the music was decent (the two highlights being a hilarious song in a dive bar and the obvious love song between the two) but for the most part it was meh. It's not that they sounded bad or were overly cheesy, but they just lacked that umph that other Disney musicals have. Best example: Gothel. Her re-occurring villain song is "Mother Knows Best" an I-can't-keep-a-consistent-time song that's mostly talk sing and honestly pretty dull. It overstays its welcome and puts a damper on the scene that led up to it. The rest aren't as bad but feel cookie cutter. It wasn't enough to make me hate the movie but enough to keep it from being a Disney classic.

Tangled is a well made, well written, well acted Disney Princess film and shows that Disney Animation Studios still has some life in them. It's not the best Disney Animated Studios film (not helped by meh music) but it's a great family film and definitely worth checking out.


PS: I watched it in 2D but I've heard the 3D was good.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Before you do anything you have to ask yourself if you can do it. If you can't do it, don't'll just get someone killed

Hello I am the movie encyclopedia and if no one else will see it, I will.

French films seem to be getting remade a lot these days. And if not remade then there are certainly plenty of movies lately that base their premise on a French film. The Next Three Days is one of those films. Based on the French thriller "Pour Elle," (which is fantastic if you ever get a chance to watch it) The Next Three Days is the newest film from famed screenwriter and short lived show mastermind Paul Haggis. Best known for his work on Crash, the past two Bond films and The Black Donnelly's, Paul Haggis returns to the director's chair for a fourth time to deliver us a tense thriller that relies heavily on convenience rather then reality.
Russell Crowe plays John Brennan, an English Professor at the local Community College, whose wife Lara was arrested and convicted of murder. John believes it was a case of wrong place, wrong time but all of the evidence points to Lara and so most of his appeals get shot down immediately. John, between appeals work, is also tasked with taking care of their young son Luke who seems to have taken Lara's departure the hardest. He is quiet, anti-social, and practically ignores his mom at the jail, which is something that worries both John and Lara. John keeps to himself mostly but during all this meets Nicole (Olivia Wilde), a young mother whose daughter has taken a liking to Luke. She is apparently the only person outside of the justice system that he has told about Lara's incarnation.

After spending three years in prison, Lara attempts suicide and that causes John to shift his focus from getting her out legally to getting her out in any way possible. He consults Damon Pennington (Liam Neeson), a man who has escaped prison multiple times, and he gives John all the information necessary for him to break his wife out of prison. The problem is if he can't do it successfully, Luke is going to grow up without both of his parents, and that keeps John hesitant throughout the first half of the film.
The second half picks up the in the action department and it's also where the films flaws rear their ugly head and the biggest problem is believability. Now I realize that movies are meant to be fiction (unless said otherwise and even then) and in films if you want to move the plot along you have to have things happen at convenient times so that the hero can accomplish his goal. Well in this movie conveniences happen to everyone and that really throws off the reality of it all. 

I can understand John handling and using a weapon. If people were shooting at me I could turn into Rambo pretty quick. What I DON'T understand is a detective looking at a Prius key and knowing it's automatically John. Or a detective seeing John puke after a visit to the prison and thinking "He's going to break his wife out of prison next week." Actually most of these stretches are courtesy of the police, who are apparently gods and can make no mistakes. Even when they do make a mistake, they rally in no time and are right on them. I know police officers and I have never seen an entire city's police force centralized on two people, on foot mind you, and be able to respond to whatever direction the detectives tell him in 10 seconds. I call bulls**t. I know it may seem minor to some people but when it's used in succession as much as it is in the second half it gets eye rollingly obvious that they were running out of script.

Besides that though the only other problem is throwaway characters. I mention Olivia Wilde and Liam Neeson in the synopsis but really they are in the movie together a combined 15-16 minutes (and that's mostly Wilde). I understand cameos but when you base almost your entire marketing campaign on one man's 5 minute speech, it can be disappointing to realize that that speech was it. As for Wilde's character she is never really fleshed out enough and her character is left with a giant "Well what did she do?" moment that never gets answered. I have a feeling it's on a cutting room floor somewhere.
The film is actually pretty well done though on the acting and the technical side. It's paced nicely, the camera work is great, the soundtrack is intense and all of the actors, especially Crowe and Banks, give it their all as their characters. Despite being built like a construction worker in the summer, you could believe Crowe was a mild mannered teacher. And Banks, whose mostly known for comedy roles, gives a great dramatic performance of a woman wrongly accused. Neeson and Wilde are good in their small parts but only Neeson really stands out. His speech is epic and extremely well delivered. If I take anything away from the film it will be his speech.

The Next Three Days is one of those hard ones to rate. It's a good film but it suffers from throwaway characters, plot holes and conveniences that not even Sherlock Holmes could figure out on his own. But I do believe it IS worth seeing if you're willing to turn a blind eye to realism and hopefully you enjoy the ride.