Tron: Legacy

What’s Good: Jeff Bridges, God-beard and all.
What’s Not: Everything else. The protagonist is boring and the antagonist (30-year-old Bridges) looks like a character from “Polar Express.” This film is as dull, inert, and redundant as a Microsoft Windows product. As a side note the showing I went to at the South Bay Arclight was horrible. The screen was dark, the sound was muddled and I found myself taking my bulky 3D glasses off every chance I could during the non 3D sections of the film (which there are a lot of actually).

“TRON: Legacy” has every right to rip off “The Matrix.” After all, “Matrix” “borrowed” from the original 1982 “TRON.” What “Tron:  Legacy” however does not have the right to do is be worse than “Matrix,” the original at least (it’s way better than part 2 and 3). Quality aside, the nerd in me is glad this movie has been made because how often do we get a $300 million dollar sequel to a good but not great cult film that nobody ever cared about? That it’s a a dull and lifeless but visually stimulating sci-fi film is understandable and even forgivable because that too is its legacy. Before I saw this movie I assumed that the new “TRON” would be good even if it is bad. I was wrong and should have said it will be average even if it’s bad.

“TRON: Legacy” attempts, perhaps feebly, to develop a full fledged sophisticated mythology around its thriving and self creating computer world (clunky religious symbolism and all) but falls short of taking that first Moses step across the parted sea of the unreal. What’s worse is that it displays a hint of arrogance about it’s “legacy” without actually putting much thought into its own mythology. Since it’s such an old franchise “TRON: Legacy” assumes that seniority automatically equals superiority. It doesn’t, especially in light of the fact that it is so unoriginal and lacking in identity. TRON’s early scenes it steals from “Batman: Begins” of all movies with spoiled, thrill seeking rich boy with daddy issues giving a big FU to the company he owns because he’s such a bad-ass (not really). He even poses like Batman on top of his building before jumping off. Very, very lame. After a hasty but surprisingly well delivered “you’re better than this” pep talk from the dude from the original “TRON” and, oh nothing, “Babylon 5” (Bruce Boxleitner!) the boy enters into or happens upon “the grid,” a virtual world his dad got trapped in so many years ago. The ghost in the shell transition from corporal matter to digital beingness has always been a woefully sloppy and underdeveloped feature of the “TRON” series and that’s no different here. The cancelled show “Caprica” in which a girl is trapped in a computer matrix is far superior this film. Once “inside”… I don’t need to explain the plot further because it’s the same as “The Matrix” give or take a few bot car/plane races. Young boy learns the truth. Humans are hunted. Virtual world covered in darkness (and storms for some reason). Computer program seeks absolute power and oppresses, uh, other computer programs on its way to conquering Earth (again, never explained why or how). Boy then meets a Jedi, er, I mean Morpheus, er, I mean Jeff Bridges, reprising his role as Kevin Flynn form the original “TRON.” And finally, the chosen-one-Jesus-frat-boy finds his footing and boldly heads into the digital fray for one last battle to SAVE HUMANITY from… something.

The always great Jeff Bridges of course plays Flynn from “TRON” and it’s very fun to watch how this imprisioned character has evolved over almost thirty years. The movie may be underwhelming but this is a historical role to watch for a lot of reasons. The digital anti-aging technology that went into creating a Flynn’s evil computer program doppelganger being only one of those reasons and the very worst one at that because it looks distracting and unnatural (more cartoon than human).  Bridges makes the unusual choice of adding a large amount of Dude-isms (calls his son “man” all the time, says “radical!” when he sees something, uh, radical) and “Star Wars” force powers. He is a fallen digital god after all so I guess it makes sense he has powers. His Dudebe Wan Kenobi act should have fallen flat (is that all Bridges can do these days?) but it does the opposite by bringing humanity to the film’s many dead ideas, giving the film a glimmer of purpose if not logic in the process. I add logic because how on Earth, more like non-Earth, does this renigade human hide within a hostel computer program for thirty years? Well, apparently he goes all Osama Bin Laden on it by heading in a cave at the top of a mountain in the computer program. Yes, a cave! Hollywood’s best screenwriter dollars at works folks.

While Bridges is a joy to watch, full of a compelling sadness and cool-ass Zen powers, his son, the unnecessary star of the movie (gotta get them teens to watch), is annoying to put it bluntly. Taking a page from the recent, almost-good “Star Trek” movie (also ruined by the main character’s douchebaggery), Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund–the acting dynamo from “Eragon”) brings whatever energy and momentum the film may have had to a halt. He’s what we call in the video game world an NPC which stands for Non-player character. Basically, there’s nobody controlling this character. His attitude and (lack of) range in human emotion (most just cocky and cool) feels as detached as someone playing a video game. Actually way more detached, video games are more fun and you actually die in them. Flynn 2.0 can do anything in this new world and he does do everything… with ease. The boy saves world because he’s that damn awesome and even finds time to resolve some lingering family issues, thus making him even awesomer. Cool story, bro! This humorless hero bit takes the already post-human black and neon aesthetic even more off “the grid.” I found very little to identify with in this movie. Since there’s no sense of danger or emotional vulnerability the admittedly impressive action spectacles and $lick production design is rendered amusing (even a must see for sci-fi fans) but not much more–he’s this year’s Sam Worthington in “Avatar” and that’s not a good thing. Sam Flynn’s relationship with an equally by-the-numbers heroine, a hunted computer program that, like humans, is THE LAST OF HER KIND (natch) played by Olivia Wilde (Zzzzzzz) has no chemestry either. That also goes for Sam’s lifeless interactions with his pop which is hurt by the fact that his dad is so much cooler than him. The upside to Hedlund’s shallow character and binary acting sensibilities (writing/filmmaking also to blame for this, not just the actor) is that it really should make more people respect Keanu Reeves’ non-acting in “Matrix.” 
Grade: C

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

What’s Good: Hey, they made a Scott Pilgrim movie! And it didn’t totally suck! And I’m happy!  
What’s Not: A curious lack of chemistry between almost every character in the movie, especially the two leads. Not all the jokes work. A lot of stuff is crammed in and the story sometimes hurries along awkwardly.

It’s funny that the movie version of “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” tries to be more of a comic book than the actual comic book which was modest and minimalist in comparison. In the movie every punch is swung with a “woosh” and lands with a “boom,” every fall lands with a “thudddd,” every bass guitar chord resonates with a deep and profound “dddddd” and every boyfriend boss defeat yields a bounty of coins and flashing one ups. That this is director Joe Wright’s first comic book movie is a surprise, but not really considering his superlative “Shaun of the Dead” and even better “Hot Fuzz” felt like high energy comic books come to life. This movie is not as good as those two but, lets face it few, modern comedies are. The good news is that “Scott Pilgrim” is it’s just as enjoyable to watch and soak in from a manic visual standpoint. The film, about a loser in love, tries very hard to push the already outlandish premise of a boy fighting a girl’s seven evil exes to earn her love. And while a degree of wacky forcefulness is almost mandatory, many jokes, puns and visual gags misfire harder than one of Scott’s dates. That is not to say that even the lame jokes such as the rhyming of “bi-curious” with “bi-FURIOUS!!!” are likable even when missing the target by about a mile. A slightly less acceptable miscalculation is that the chemistry just isn’t anywhere to be found between the Super Mario power star crossed lovers Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) and Ramona Flowers played by the fittingly anime eyed Mary Elizabeth Winstead, a girl I too have had an insane crush on for years and if you don’t believe me just ask my (non) evil exes and they will tell you many sad stories of my rather odd obsession with this not very well known actress. Ahhhhhh, uh, where was I… flaws, yes, forget them, they don’t really matter. Despite its dark color pallet “Pilgrim” is a vibrant love story/adventure that incorporates everything I love about almost everything other than movies including but not limited to music, comic books, video games and kicking the shit out of Canadian hipsters.

Earlier in the day I was lamenting the fact that more people were interested in the douchey, straight-to-DVD looking “Expendables” and self indulgent love fest “Eat, Prey, Poop.” After watching “Scott Pilgrim” I no longer tried to argue the point that more people should be into “Pilgrim.” It’s one of the most inside and esoteric video game homages ever put to film. Seriously, “Scott Pilgrim” is more of video game than the “Scott Pilgrim” video game, which is awesome by the way! I was shocked at how much the aesthetics of old school games informed this film right down to the pixelated Universal logo rocking an 8bit MIDI version of the Universal jingle. This influence is in the comic series but I was delighted to the degree at which the movie drapes itself in a feverishly kinetic embrace of all things video games. When Scott fights Ramona’s league of angry exes he does so in a way that can best be described as a Nintendoized version of “Kill Bill” meets “Kung Fu Hustle.” Anything is possible, including Scott pulling a fiery sword of love out of his heart. People who don’t know the Zelda save menu music –not the Zelda theme, mind you, because that would be too easy– might not get the full effect… so, yeah, “Eat, Prey Love” will make more money. A lot more! Fine. “Pilgrim” is a niche movie all the way and based on the audience’s (non) reaction to it, it is destined to live on as a cult movie and not much else.

Michael Cera’s shtick is getting old but, damn, the dude sure does look the part. Yet he lacks the chemistry that I mentioned as well as a certain wild and playful sense of manic-depressiveness that the original character possesses. Cera’s standoffish persona and cute/awkward verbal meanderings (not really an acting stretch for him) overcomes a lot and it’s cool to watch the actor add something, ANYTHING, new to his repertoire which is kicking ass. Seeing as how this is the last time we’ll ever get to see Cera do that, get it while you can. As a fan of the six volume comic series I always wondered who could play Scott and how his fights would be staged. Even if it’s not perfect it feels good to know those answers and I had a lot of fun watching this character (and movie) come to life. On the topic of fun: director Edgar Wright is still the most enjoyable comedy directors around. Maybe of all time. As with “Hot Fuzz” Edgar Wright does not just tell the story of a funny movie, he shows you one by incorporating all the cinematic tools at his disposal (while inventing some new ones) to serve the material. Particularly (and predictability) impressive is the rapid fire editing bridges between (and during, and after… and in the middle of) scenes and whiplash inducing cinematography that allows for anything to happen at anytime such as Scott being lifted and tossed through a wall by Superman’s (Brandon Routh) mental vegan powers (vegans can do, or at least think they can do anything, y’know) or tossed across the screen into a building by Capt. America (Chris Evans). This is the closest thing to a fully realized comic book movie since “Hulk,” except about 100x better and with 100% less daddy issues and mutant poodles. Oh, and Wright also adapted the script and did a decent if not entirely smooth job of combining everything that’s lovable and charming about the comic into the power-up film version. The end result is enormously entertaining but also kind of messy. But this really wouldn’t be a Scott Pilgrim story if messy didn’t factor into things. 
Grade: B+