December 22nd, 2010


The Film We Didn't Even Know We Wanted A Sequel For

Tuesday Double Feature

With my grades in and both of us on vacation, it was time to try to catch up on some of the films out there. First up, the sequel to Tron.

When it came out in 1982, of course I saw it. Pretty sure I saw it at least twice -- once in regular distribution and once over on the Northwestern campus as part of Tech Flicks in Tech Auditorium. May have even rented in once after we got up the U.P. and had a VCR in the late 80s. Memorable visuals, less than memorable story.

So when the idea of a sequel came up, I was curious. As soon as I started seeing trailers, though, I knew we'd be seeing it in 3D IMAX. For sure.

Tron: Legacy in IMAX 3D [PG]
Celebration Cinema North IMAX, 11:00am, 2×$15

Funny to go into a movie with low story expectations, but that's the game here. I was prepared to be visually entertained. Surprisingly, we were entertained on both the story and the visuals. Sure, it's not a great story. They kind of stretched things here and there to mesh with the original backstory. But by and large they didn't do any damage that way, and though there were some deeper social commentary story lines which could be hinted at, they were skipped over. So nothing too controversial remained.

Lots has been said about Jeff Bridges and his dual roles as Kevin Flynn and Clu. I had to glance at the Wikipedia entry for Tron to verify that Bruce Boxleitner actually was reprising a role from the original. The guy playing the grownup son Sam Flynn opens as sort of a cross between Bruce Wayne's bad boy act in Batman Begins and the reckless James T. Kirk in the Star Trek reboot from last year. But nicer. Definitely not the brooding sullenness of Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels.

But the real breakout star for me was Olivia Wilde as Quorra. Some of you may know her as Thirteen in the FOX medical show House. She has the most wonderful eyes and given the Tron-ish makeup and short black hair framing her face, the eyes get well treated on the huge IMAX screen. Plus her character smiles a lot, in addition to a lot of kick-ass Tron-ish maneuvers. Thankfully, though a relationship is clearly developing between Sam and Quorra, the film wastes no time stooping to even so much as an on screen kiss between them. Wilde has apparently expressed a desire to do a third film, exploring her character in the real world. I'd see it.

Meanwhile, the film is just plain fun. The lightcycle battles have been updated with more movement, offering so much more than was possible some thirty years ago when the graphics were chewed out on the world's fastest PDP-10 computer. But the odd rocket powered police frames and the lighted side lines on everything screams towards their late 70s origins. The four Sirens who gird Sam for battle in the games are so stylized, with the severely pulled back hair and heavy eye makeup that they look like refugees from 1970s flight attendant school. None of this is a complaint -- it's "perfect".

Everything is dark and everything is light. The dinner scene between Sam, his father and Quorra, in a highly lit white set, brings the scene from 2001 to mind where David Bowman is living out his life in the hotel room, eating all alone. The night club reminds me a lot of the Merovingian's club in The Matrix Reloaded, but then just like software and operating systems, how can any movies about virtual computer living not be like all the other movies about virtual computer living?

What I want to know is this: How the hell did a pair of big servers survive in a dusty basement office without any hardware faults for over twenty years? Not that it really matters. (grin) I was just happy to see the one young "genius" in the boardroom in meatspace, though never really developed as a character, pulling off a UNIX "kill -9" on a command line interface.

The 3D of the Grid world really works quite well. The diminished brightness of the 3D glasses only becomes noticeable in the very end when we are back in the real world. And even then, it's not too distracting.

You don't need to have seen the original in order to be entertained. But if you're an old fogy like some of us, it's pure electronic joy.


TRAILERS: Given that Tron is a Disney property, lots of Disney trailers. The top one, though, was our first look at the fourth movie in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, in 3D IMAX. Oh, yeah. We'll be there for that one. (grin)

Dr. Phil

HP Version 7.1

Oh MY!

While watching Top Chef All-Stars, I just made a batch of bourbon franks -- they'll steep in the fridge and then tomorrow we'll have them with some boxed macaroni & cheese. (grin) If that's not festive enough for the season, and believe me, bourbon franks are pretty damned festive, there are suddenly Christmas cookies lurking in the kitchen. Snowballs. My favorites. I think Mrs. Dr. Phil loves me. And loves Christmas. (double-trouble-grin)

Tuesday Double Feature Part Two

Over the weekend we did our pre-lab for HP 7.1 -- watched the DVD of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Because we had to wait to see HP 7.1, we couldn't see it in IMAX. But that's okay.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One [PG-13]
Celebration Cinema North, Theatre #17, 2×$7.50

And now we get serious... No question about it. After ten years of filming and seven of eight films (and six-and-a-half of seven books), Harry Potter has grown up. Both the character and the story. And it is getting more serious by the moment. We know we're getting to the final battle -- and it doesn't matter that we've read the book and know what's going to happen. In the movie-verse on the screen, it hasn't happened yet.

As I commented in summer 2009, I think breaking the last book into two parts is brilliant strategy. And I don't mean that in a bad way, as if only marketing and filthy greed was involved. Last year I wrote: "At 158 minutes, HP6 is about the right length and twenty minutes longer that HP5. But we did miss the ending of the book version." HP 7.1 clocks in at 150 minutes. What would one cut to make the whole thing fit in one film? How much longer can you make an American audience sit in a theatre? No. Like Peter Jackson filming LOTR in three films, doing Deathly Hallows in two parts is the thing to do.

I'm sure some will complain that this movie is all about waiting moves. Well, yeah. In parts. But you have to show some of this friction between Harry, Hermione and Ron. And the devastation and fear that Voldemort and his Death Eaters are spreading in both the wizarding and muggle worlds. At one point our three main characters walk through a destroyed mobile home park and emptied countryside. Bleak. Yeah, this is wizarding armageddon here, folks.

And like desperate times, there are moments of pleasure and amusements. A bit of dancing in the tent is a tough counterpoint to the interrupted dancing at Bill and Fleur's wedding. There's no handholding here -- either you know the characters and the places or you don't. You've had six movies to learn the playlist, now it's time to put the pieces in play.

I love Kreacher, who hates Harry Potter with a passion, but is obligated to help him. And the ex-house elf Dobby, who loves Harry Potter and will help him to the extent of his powers. And elf powers are not the same as wizards, which helps them out of some tough jams. But we're also losing characters. Some incapacitated with battle injuries and some killed outright. And trust -- oh many do we have trust issues between the good guys.

Still, not all is sunshine and light, so to speak, over on the dark side. Voldemort holding the most uncomfortable boardroom meeting as information is traded and debated. Lucious Malfoy being broken and desperate. Bellatrix, so ably acted by Helena Bonham Carter, being mad and wantonly destructive.

We want the good side to win, of course, so it cheers us when the bad guys are incompetent. But "our" side is ineffective and divided. And between shapeshifting and polyjuice potions, no one trusts who the other really is. And in the middle of the film our heroes head straight into the fallen Ministry of Magic. Ugh -- is there a more despicable character than the very pink Dolores Umbridge? Fantastically designed character.

Outstanding "new" character? Bill Nighy shows up as the deposed Minster of Magic and has to have a talk with Harry, Hermione and Ron. Well done, Bill. And Hermione's purse -- legendary. (grin)

We were very happy with what they've done with HP 7.1. And we'll be there bright and early for HP 7.2, you can be assured.

Highly Recommended

Oh... and the snowball cookies? Mmmm... wonderful. Along with a couple of delightful kumquats. Beginning to get into the mood for Christmas for sure. Holiday movies and vacation definitely help that a great deal. (grin)

Dr. Phil