Cowboys & Aliens

Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) enters the town of Absolution in 1873 as a man with no name.  In fact, he’s a man without an identity.  He doesn’t know his own ‘who,’ ‘where,’ or why.  What he does know is that he can speak English, he’s wounded, he can easily disarm and maim a group of men singlehandedly, and he has a permanent shiny bracelet on his wrist.  Soon enough he is made aware that he is a wanted murderer and thief—what he did exactly he can’t recall.  Luckily for him he angered the wrong fellow, Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), a wealthy rancher trying to industrialize Absolution.  Dolarhyde’s son Percy (Paul Dano) is a wreckless and cowardly twit.  The town has had about enough of him and Lonergan fails to last even minutes in his presence without putting him in his place.  When both Jake and Percy finds themselves under arrest, Dolarhyde comes to rip them both from the hands of the law.  Things aren’t boding well for our antihero until bright lights peer in from above.  The bracelet on his wrist starts blinking.  Enemy alien spaceships zoom in overhead and begin snatching people up from the street, including Dolaryde’s boy and the town sheriff.  The cowboys are forced to chase after their loves ones that were abducted by ‘demons.’  Lonergan is coerced into joining Dolarhyde and his posse as he searches for answers to his past.

While part of me feels that Director Jon Favreau could have just as easily skipped the whole ‘aliens invade’ plot and delivered the best straight-up western of the last decade or so, I would be lying if I said I didn’t still enjoy the heck out of Cowboys & Aliens.  Favreau could’ve turned this into a gooey camp fest, but instead he’s taking things dead on serious.  The threat is immense.  The violence is gritty.  Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig are bent on saving the Old West and they deliver top-dollar performances.  Even with such silliness in the plot (and there are a few howlers and head-scratchers—some of them hybrids), the movie plays like it’s a full-out invasion assault.  I rather appreciated that even if it seems other viewers wanted a more self-aware picture.  Sorry folks, there’s no snakes on this plane.

Favreau improves on Iron Man 2.  He feels much more like a competent action director.  Cowboys & Aliens has several impressive gunfights and aerial battles, giant special effects, and it moves at great speed.  In between the lightning and thunder, we get actors doing something great—called acting.  Ford, Craig, Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano, and others have interesting dialogue and several moments of humor.  I really felt like Favreau and his team put together the ideal summer popcorn film.  Cowboys, aliens, guns, pow and laughs—what more can you want?

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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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