True Grit (2010)

The Coen Brothers have been on a winning streak for quite some time.  Now the raves have been spooling over their remake of the John Wayne classic True Grit and I haven’t the faintest idea why—other than the fact that they are the Coen Brothers.  Not to say this is a particularly bad movie by any means, but it practically left my mind about as quickly as it entered it.

Set in the 1880s, willful 14-year-old girl Matty Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) hires the wild one-eyed sheriff Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to track down her father’s murderer, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) en route through Indian territory.  Texas Ranger LeBoeuf (Matt Damon) joins Matty and Rooster for the manhunt.  LeBoeuf wants Chaney to hang in Texas for crimes committed in the state.  Matty wants to see him at the end of the noose for her father’s murder.  Let the trademark Coen banter ensue, as True Grit quickly evolves from its revenge western saga shell into a full blown comedy.

Yes, that’s right.  True Grit is not the movie being advertised in TV spots.  What we really have here is a witty, dialogue-driven comedy with sprinkles of violence.  Very reminiscent of the Coen’s Fargo, I ate up the back-and-forth between Damon, Bridges, and Steinfeld.  Steinfeld especially carries her own here, and I see Oscar smiling down on her fondly in the future.  Much has been said about Bridges in the title role, and I have to say his interpretation of Cogburn is a puzzling one.  His drawl becomes so mumbled and distorting that I had trouble sorting through his words.  I think he finds the heart of the character, but I didn’t find his performance all that engaging.  For me, the movie was really the Steinfeld show.

All of this admiration for the writing and comedy leaves me wondering where the ‘grit’ went.  I enjoyed the Coen Brothers lighting a signature spark here, but I left True Grit craving for a little more drama—something eventful perhaps.  The Coens grace us with a parody of a Western, and while the comedy no doubt worked out well, I felt like the movie came to a close in a bit of an incomplete fashion.  Of course it ends in a shootout of good guys and bad guys, but there’s little intensity or excitement in the pursuit.  Even Josh Brolin’s mug doesn’t make an appearance until the final ten minutes or so.  True Grit is a well-made, well-written film that left a void unfulfilled.

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Rating: 4.0/5 (3 votes cast)

Tron Legacy

Greetings once again, Walking Taco readers!

I’ve been MIA for a bit, but as a newlywed, I’m sure you’ll forgive me for spending less time at my computer, and more time with my wife.

Speaking of spending time with my wife, we made it out to the theatre for the first time in a while to see the new film Tron Legacy. Now, once upon a time, I saw the original Tron, and I remember at the time thinking it was cool, and edgy, and all the effects were so ahead of their time. (which they were) But nowadays, Tron holds on to the hearts of the masses through the sheer willpower of nostalgia. It’s similar to how fans approached the Star Wars prequels. They loved the originals, so why wouldn’t it be 10 times better with new visual effects, right?

Quick summary – Sam Flynn, son of Kevin Flynn, a game designer from the 80s, is inactive CEO of Encom, a Microsoft-esque company his father started before his sudden disappearance. After 20 years of being out of his life, a friend of his father’s receives a page. Sam goes to the arcade his father used to run, discovers a hidden room and running workstation, and inadvertently inserts himself into “the Grid”, a digital world his father created. Once here he meets his father, discovers a plot by a program his father created called “CLU” and strikes out with his father to escape the Grid and stop CLU from carrying out his evil plan.

To quote Will Smith "I have got to get me one of these!"

Tron Legacy was, to be frank, a visual effects feast. Similar to how thrilled I was in Superman Returns to see Superman moving in a freeform fashion instead of laying on a bluescreen table and leaning left and right, it was thrilling to see light cycles and disc battles using today’s cutting-edge CGI technology. These scenes were the first to be presented to the fans over a year ago, and really, they’re probably the coolest elements to the film. Alas, they are also the shortest scenes of the film. I would say in the over 2-hour runtime, you see maybe 5 minutes of disc battles, and 8 minutes of light cycles. Oh, there are plenty of other CGI effects, including the entire world of the Grid, but those two sequences are what fans of the original came to see, and they deliver in a way only nostalgia-fueled reminiscing can fully enjoy.

Jeff's evil twin-brother - Faux Bridges

There is, of course, one other major CGI element, and that is the young version of Jeff Bridges. The makers of Tron Legacy decided that to make a 20-year younger Jeff Bridges, they’d use the same motion capture technology used to make Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen look younger for X3. Problem is, it looked creepy then, and it looked creepy now. Long ago, people at Pixar realized that trying to make CG people look 100% real was very off-putting to audiences. There are so many imperfections to human expression that to attempt to recreate it in a computer almost always resulted in an indescribably unnatural effect. So, Pixar steered clear and went with the more cartoony humans we know and love.

I do have to say that I’m okay with this concept when the technology is used to create CLU, the avatar version of Flynn, because he exists solely in a computer world, and could therefore look artificial. However, when they try to pass it off for the few real world scenes, it’s eerie, and discomforting to watch. I appreciate that they tried, and didn’t just use a lot of back shots and cleverly concealed faces, but maybe casting a younger actor to play Flynn in those few flashback scenes would have been a better bet. They also used this technique for Bruce Boxleitner to create the younger version of Tron, who makes a few appearances via flashback, but it was far less noticeable in these scenes.

Outside of the effects, this movie is fairly lackluster. The acting is passable, but never really reaches any sort of noteworthy performance. Perhaps the closest would be Olivia Wilde as Quorra, who has to have an almost child-like, artificiality to her, and she does this well. Martin Sheen takes a break from his overly dramatic roles to do a mean David Bowie impression as Castor, Beau Garrett gets her first notable role playing some spandex-clad eye candy as Gem.

The plot of the film is clearly aimed at fans of the original, relying on a lot of “wink wink” allusions to the first film in order to garner full enjoyment. It was predictable at times, and I found I had little emotional investment in the film, primarily because the characters lacked any emotional investment. After not seeing his father for the 20 most developmental years of his life, Sam and Kevin see each other and it’s merely a “haven’t seen you in a while *tear*… so, yeah, how about we get out of here?” moment. They circle the father-son relationship concept but never really delve too deeply into it. Kevin Flynn has the personality of a burned out druggie, ending most sentences with the colloquialism “man” to make sure the audience never forgets that he last left Earth in the 80s and was clearly a product of the 60s and 70s. Most of the other characters were artificial beings, so their lack of humanity is somewhat excusable.

You'd have to be "daft" to not enjoy this soundtrack!

The last note I have to make is in regards to the soundtrack, which is expertly executed by Daft Punk. Interestingly, this is the element of the film getting some of the most buzz. I can’t say that I’d want to listen to this Soundtrack much outside of the film, but as a part of the whole, it’s perfect. Plus their outfits are pretty much made to cameo in this film – which they do – so, bonus there.

Sort of a quick side note, we saw the film in 3D due to lack of other time options, and the film opened with a disclaimer saying many of the scenes are presented in 2D because that’s how they were intended. I applaud Disney for the bold choice, however some scenes, such as the light cycles and many of the scenes in the Grid offered some very cool 3D effects, but the shift between 2D and 3D scenes was occasionally jarring, and not always justified. I could buy using 2D for the real world, and 3D for the Grid, sort of ala Wizard of Oz and its use of color, but not all of the Grid was in 3D, and sometimes it was just shots of a character standing there that got the upconvert, which made for a very disorienting moment. I leave it to you to decide if 3D is worth the extra money for you or not.

To sum up, Tron Legacy is an exciting return visit to the world of Tron, with a much needed update to the visual effects. The story is relatively flat, but serves to move us from one visual sequence to the next, and the acting is what it is for the confines of the story. For those that haven’t seen the original Tron, there’s a convenient bit of exposition at the beginning to catch you up, so you won’t be lost. (My wife hadn’t seen the original and still enjoyed the film.) I would say I enjoyed seeing the film, and would recommend seeing it in the theatres for the spectacle, just don’t expect Oscar-worthy film-making (outside of the CGI effects).

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Rating: 2.3/5 (3 votes cast)


Visiting a movie like Tron for the first time can be described as none other than tricky business.  First of all, the movie is a vintage visual effects spectacular from 1982.  Secondly, it came about in the early days of computer technology which poses major difficulty in addressing the film’s ‘revolutionary’ use of such special effects and the problems derived from the plot.  In a time of Windows 7, and in the wake of The Matrix, it’s a little hard to digest a Disney version of a super computer bent on taking over the world, and a human computer program designer being zapped into the computer’s infrastructure.

Even though Tron is widely considered a classic among fanboys and became a landmark in its time for visuals, I could only appreciate it for its advances in its time—which look incredibly awful by today’s standards.  A movie like this could only be approached today by techy gurus obsessed with the 1980s or nostalgic adults remembering this flick of their youth.  I felt that due to a slight interest in the upcoming Tron: Legacy that I must visit the niche film that started it all.

As a fan of science-fiction I can see the impact that Tron must have had upon its release.  It combines digital effects with hand-drawn animation and utilizes live actors in the process against a computer-rendered backdrop.  Talk about ambition for its time.  Jeff Bridges plays Kevin Flynn, a top computer programmer and former video game designer for a software company.  His colleague, Ed Dillinger (David Warner), sabotages him by stealing all of his arcade game designs which promotes Ed to a Chief Executive position.  Soon enough Flynn is removed from the company.  Dillinger’s Master Control Program (or MCP), in charge of the company’s operations, continues to gain intelligence following Flynn’s departure, and eventually becomes self-aware determined to tap into access at the Pentagon (for world domination I presume).  The MCP keeps Dillinger in check by threatening to expose a file that proves Flynn is the real creator of the most popular arcade games on the market.  As MCP continues to gain more control and knowledge, the software company’s access to other human ‘users’ is cut off sending these programmers into a frenzy.  Employee Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) has designed a program called Tron that will put a stop to foreign program violators which poses a threat to the MCP.  He teams up with co-worker Lora (Cindy Morgan) to recruit the genius Flynn into helping them sneak into the company and load Tron into the system.  Flynn sees this as is opportunity to track down the data file that will prove Dillinger’s scheme and earn him his job back.   All the while, an experimental laser has been developed at the company that can break a physical object down into a digital data stream.  Of course this laser comes into play when the MCP finds Flynn’s intrusion into the computer network.  The MCP decides it logical to stop Flynn from loading the Tron program by zapping him with the laser and turning him into a digital program that brings him into the world of the super computer.  As a program, Flynn must participate in a series of arcade games within the computer while trying to implement Tron (or more appropriately, a computer anti-virus in today’s terms) into the system and thus killing the MCP.

Whew… Still with me?  Tron as a film is further ‘out there’ than most, and is truly laughable by today’s standards.  But keep the year 1982 in your mind and also the fact that it’s a family-friendly Disney film, probably best remembered as a pioneer in experimental special effects.  The story is as odd and shallow, and yet as utterly complicated and confusing as it needs to be.  If you can accept Jeff Bridges being zapped by a laser that turns him into a computer program, then you’re half way to enjoying this movie.  I haven’t even mentioned that all computer programs within the computer are human counterparts that exist as replicants of their human users.  But I don’t want to confuse you even more.  The plot really has me scratching my head, and to contemplate it more and more I don’t think was the intent of the filmmakers.  Why would the MCP send Flynn, the ultimate threat to whole system, through a series of arcade battles and races when he could just have him terminated?  If the MCP really did gain so much knowledge and control, why don’t these human computer programmers so bent on uploading the Tron program decide to simply pull the power cord?   I have other questions that would spoil further developments of the plot, but I think ultimately I need to turn off my brain and recognize Tron simply as an early example of computer effects technology—even as laughable as it looks today.  I suppose my biggest question is how this type of film will translate to a wider audience today?  Upping the special effects will certainly help, but can today’s viewers really get into this?  We’ll have to wait and see when Tron: Legacy takes over soon enough.

So did I enjoy Tron or not?  I don’t know.  I really couldn’t see myself watching it again.  It has very little lasting qualities, and because I didn’t experience the film in the 80s, I can’t generate any sort of nostalgic attachment or appreciation for it.  Is it terrible?  No.  This is an ambitious project for its time, and in many ways was much ahead of its time.  I can appreciate it on that level, but find the film to hold little weight today.

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Rating: 2.0/5 (4 votes cast)