The Guilty (Den skyldige)


Phone calls to a police emergency call center require nerves of steel in the operators.

(2018) Thriller (Magnolia) Jakob Cedergren, Jessica Dinnage, Omar Shargawi, Johan Olsen, Jacob Hauberg Lohmann, Katinka Evers-Jahnsen, Jeanette Lindbæk, Simon Bennebjerg, Laura Bro, Morten Suurballe, Guuled Abdi Youssef, Caroline Leppke, Peter Christoffersen, Nicolai Wendelboe, Morten Thunbo, Anders Brink Madsen, Maria Gersby. Directed by Gustav Möller

Every so often a movie comes along that simply hits every note perfectly and sets the bar just a little bit higher. It is even more rare for that movie to come out of nowhere with little fanfare. While this movie has played Sundance, Rotterdam and our own Florida Film Festival (and recently got a distribution deal with indie heavyweight Magnolia) other than devoted film festival junkies there isn’t a lot of buzz going on about this movie but fear not; once the critics clue in to how good this movie is, they will absolutely lose their minds.

This Danish thriller from first-time director Möller (who also co-wrote the script) introduces us to Asger Holm (Cedergren), a police officer who has been exiled to their police emergency call center (the equivalent of the 9-1-1 in America although the number you dial in Denmark is 1-1-2) after some incident that is only revealed gradually. He is awaiting a hearing the next day that is expected to exonerate him and return him to being a cop. He is terse and unsympathetic on the phone, often blaming the callers for their own troubles.

Then he gets a call from Iben (Dinnage) who is highly terrified and well she should be; she’s been kidnapped and is being driven in a van to some unknown destination. The call is cut off before Asger can get an exact location from the panicked girl. Asger moves heaven and earth to try and find her, even resorting to some tactics of questionable legal and moral legitimacy. By the time the call is resolved, Asger’s perspective will be called into question as he will be forced to confront his own demons in order to save Iben from the demon that has her.

This is the kind of movie that the less you know about it going in, the more you’ll end up appreciating it. Therefore I’m only going to give you the barest outline of the plot and assure you there’s much more to it than this. Also, the entire film takes place in the call center so a tremendous burden is placed on Cedergren to be the emotional avatar of this film and he delivers in spectacular fashion. There are plenty of twists and turns and the audience will have their own preconceptions tested.

Again, given that the nature of this film is that it is way more effective if you don’t see what’s coming and I can tell you that for the most part, you can’t although the big twist you may be able to figure out before it arrives. Möller directs this so confidently that it’s hard to believe this is his first feature. While it is way too early to compare him to the greats of the thriller generation, he does show enormous potential and may one day be considered among names like Hitchcock and Scorsese.

This is simply a must see and is surely going to be among the year’s best films when all is said and done. I know I’m asking an awful lot of you to go and see a movie based on  what little information I’ve passed along here but this is a movie that you will be glad you saw if you accept my recommendation on faith and I guarantee you that you’ll be grateful that you knew little or nothing more about it than what you read here.

REASONS TO GO: The film is extraordinarily suspenseful and the story extremely involving. The twists are absolutely picture perfect. The use of the single setting is imaginative. Cedergren grows more likable as the film goes on.
REASONS TO STAY: This may be too talky for American audiences.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some adult themes and profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The director, cinematographer, producer and film editor all attended the same Danish film school at the same time and know each other well.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/3/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews: Metacritic: 80/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Call
FINAL RATING: 10/10
NEXT:
Sunset (2018)

The Zero Theorem


Qohen Leth parties like it's 2099.

Qohen Leth parties like it’s 2099.

(2014) Science Fiction (Well Go USA) Christoph Waltz, Melanie Thierry, Matt Damon, David Thewlis, Ben Whishaw, Lucas Hedges, Tilda Swinton, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Rupert Friend, Peter Stormare, Dana Rogoz, Madison Lygo, Ingrid Bisu, Naomi Everson, Radu Andrei Micu, Tudor Istodor, Olivia Nita, George Remes, Iulia Verdes, Alin Olteanu, Margarita Doyle. Directed by Terry Gilliam

The more complicated life gets – and make no mistake, it grows more complex with each passing day – the more we struggle to make sense of it. If you think it’s bad now, just imagine with those living in the future are going to have to contend with.

Qohen Leth (Waltz) is an office drone who has all sorts of issues. He’s a bit of a hypochondriac, sure that he is dying. He refers to himself in the second person – we instead of I, us instead of me. He works for Mancom, a company that makes some kind of software that brings convenience – or nothing at all. He is a data cruncher which in the future involves a Tetris-like placing of data squares into geometric city-like constructions, while furiously pedaling a flywheel. Data is transferred in vials of liquid. Being an office worker in the future sucks.

Qohen lives in an abandoned church infested with rats and pigeons, leaking from the roof and looking inside like a bomb hit it. He sleeps in the pipe organ and really would prefer to work at home, having no love for his fellow man. He’s also obsessed with a phone call he is sure is coming – one which will explain to him What It All Means and what his place in the grand scheme of things is. He’s twitchy, neurotic and in short, the very model of a modern Major General.

He asks his boss Joby (Thewlis) to get him permission to telecommute which doesn’t seem likely; the company likes keeping track of its workers. Qohen also meets Bainsley (Thierry) at a party thrown by Joby that Qohen goes to reluctantly, mainly to try and get a one-on-one audience with Management (Damon), the reclusive CEO of Mancom. He doesn’t know how to handle the forward Bainsley and although she gives him her card, there doesn’t seem to be any future for a relationship there. However, he is successful in getting time with Management (who wears clothing to blend into the decor) and at last is given a project he can work on at home.

New equipment is installed in his cluttered cathedral, mainly by the genius level Bob (Hedges) who turns out to be the son of Management (now doesn’t that sound like an office-based horror flick?) who addresses everyone as Bob because he doesn’t have time to learn their names. But he really isn’t a bad sort.

In the meantime Qohen is doing strikingly well with the project and getting close to making it work and things with Bainsley are turning out superbly, particularly when they meet on a digital beach where the sun is eternally setting. Life is good online at least.

But the closer Qohen gets to completing his project, the more frustrated he gets and the more he begins to retreat back into his shell. As it turns out, the project is about mathematically proving that everything equals nothing, which proves that there’s no point to life. The chaos this will create Mancom will profit from. And so it goes.

This has director Terry Gilliam’s thumbprint all over it, from the details, the somewhat wacky atmosphere that has marked all his work from his time as the only American member of Monty Python’s Flying Circus through his visionary career. Gilliam is certainly an acquired taste; not everyone gets his sense of humor and clearly his films don’t make a lot of money with few exceptions (Time Bandits being one). However, his work can be startlingly good and when it works he is one of the best directors living today. Even throwaway lines – an advertisement for the Church of Batman the Redeemer – can bust me up laughing.

Waltz, head shaved and twitchy, is terrific here. You get the sense that this is an individual who is in deep pain and takes great pains to make sure he remains so. There are some hints that give background into his psyche  but clearly this is a man who in our society would be undergoing all sorts of therapy and might well be committed. He seems to fit in real well in the future.

He gets some fine support, particularly from Hedges whose Bob becomes good friends with Qohen in an oddball way, and Thierry who is beautiful and charismatic as the love interest. All of the characters show some sort of vulnerability at some point, wearing masks to hide their pain. Qohen is a little more up-front about it. Management, being management, shows no weakness.

Visually this is an amazing movie, from majestic scenes of a black hole to the rotting interior of Leth’s home and the clever scenes of what is supposed to be London (maybe) in the near future but is more than likely Bucharest. There is a definite steampunk look to the film which is kind of a thing this year in indie films.

This hasn’t received any sort of release yet, although the movie’s website is promising a summer release. I hope that the distributors deliver on this; this is a movie that should be seen, by Gilliam’s fanbase if by nobody else. This is among his very best films which makes it a classic in the making, so serious film buffs should check this out even if they aren’t especially fond of Gilliam’s work.

REASONS TO GO: When it hits the mark, it’s mind-blowing. Terrific set design and Waltz is terrific in a very different role than you’re used to seeing for him.

REASONS TO STAY: As Gilliam films are prone to do, they can meander sometimes. If you don’t like Gilliam’s films, you won’t like this.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are some expletives here and there as well as some sexuality and brief nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: During the park scene, screenwriter Pat Rushin (who also teaches creative writing at the University of Central Florida) can be seen on a bench writing on his briefcase; he’s actually writing motivational lines that scroll across the computer screen in the cubicles during a different part of the film. His wife can also be glimpsed reading a newspaper.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/2/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 54% positive reviews. Metacritic: 51/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Brazil

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: The Railway Man

Trouble With the Curve


Trouble With the Curve

Amy Adams discovers that Clint Eastwood is very sensitive about “empty chair” jokes.

(2012) Drama (Warner Brothers) Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Robert Patrick, Matthew Lillard, Joe Massingill, Ed Lauter, Chelcie Ross, Raymond Anthony Thomas, George Wyner, Bob Gunton, Jack Gilpin, Clifton Guterman, Scott Eastwood, Jay Galloway. Directed by Robert Lorenz

 

Baseball is a game of timing. The batter has to time his swing just so to connect and hit it out of the park. The runner has to start his sprint and just the right time to successfully steal the base. The outfielder has to time his jump to put himself in a position to catch the ball. And the pitcher has to know when the right time to throw that nasty fastball down the middle is or else he’ll be watching the ball exit the playing field.

Life is all about timing too. Nobody know that better than Gus Lobel (Eastwood). A longtime scout for the Atlanta Braves, he was responsible for signing some of the most important players in the history of the franchise. He’s an anachronism though; whereas in the post-Moneyball era clubs have come to rely on computers and statistics, Gus is all about instincts and intangibles. He can tell more about a player from the sound of their bat connecting to the ball than most scouts can from an entire laptop full of statistics and computer analyses. The Braves have the number two pick in the upcoming draft and they’re interested in a player named Bo Gentry (Massingill). They send Gus to check him out.

But that timing is actually bad. Gus is developing macular degeneration and isn’t seeing as well. His friend (and chief of scouting) Pete Klein (Goodman) recognizes that something is wrong. Worried for his friend and knowing that Gus’ contract is up in three months which the general manager Vince (Patrick) hasn’t decided to re-sign him, and knowing that Philip Sanderson (Lillard), an ambitious and ruthless scout wants Gus gone, calls Gus’ daughter Mickey (Adams).

Mickey is also in the midst of some bad timing. She’s a lawyer whose relationship with her dad has been chilly for some time, which is more or less how Gus wants it. She’s also ambitious and driven, bucking to be the first female partner in the firm and the youngest partner ever. She’s working on an important case for the firm and winning it would be her key to having her name on the door.

Pete wants her to go down to North Carolina and keep an eye on the old man. She’s reluctant to do it – and her proud and cantankerous dad doesn’t want her to do it. In true Hollywood fashion, that’s exactly what she does.

At first the two are back in their usual patterns of behavior. Then into the mix comes Johnny Flanagan (Timberlake), a pitcher that Gus once signed who had a promising career until he blew his arm out. Now he’s scouting for the Red Sox, hoping to land a job in their broadcast booth next season. He too is there to see Gentry and determine whether he’s worthy of the first pick in the draft.

He gets googly eyed for Mickey pretty much from moment one but she’s just out of a relationship with a fellow lawyer (Guterman) that left her feeling as if she might be emotionally closed off after all. However it doesn’t take long for Flanagan’s charm to work on her and the two begin to get closer.

However, Gus has his doubts about the arrogant, self-absorbed Gentry who certainly can hit them out of the park. Nothing the stats and his direct observation tell him that there’s anything other than big time endorsement deals and multi-million dollar contracts in Gentry’s future – other than his gut. While Gus’ baseball instincts aren’t in question, he doesn’t seem to know how to relate to his daughter and she blames him for abandoning her twice.

This is not so much a movie about baseball except metaphorically and baseball has always worked superbly well as a metaphor. This is first and foremost a movie about relationships. It is also a movie about communication – and  movie about timing, yes.

Eastwood has made an art out of playing the cantankerous old man and he does a pretty solid job of it here. He came out of retirement (as an actor) to do this for a friend and colleague when some space opened up on his directing schedule when Beyonce Knowles’ pregnancy put the planned remake of A Star is Born into turnaround. Although Eastwood isn’t saying it this time, there’s a good chance this is his final film as an actor so that accounts for something.

Adams is one of the most likable actresses in Hollywood. She’s very much the girl next door type, although she can be smoldering and sex when she needs to be (as she is in a lake swimming scene). She has some good chemistry with both Timberlake and Eastwood. I have to admit that she’s been one of my favorites for several years now.

Goodman, Patrick and Lillard are solid character performances and Goodman, who once played Babe Ruth on the silver screen, makes a fine baseball man. Lillard is a fine actor as well – no reflection on him – but his character is kind of cliché in nearly every way. I don’t think the character needed to be drawn quite the same way; he could have been a passionate believer in computers as a tool for evaluating baseball talent without being quite such a d-bag. I think the movie would have worked better with a more sympathetic antagonist.

There are some real emotional scenes to deal with here, most of which having to do with the things that caused Gus to be so closed off and, well, scared to put it bluntly. That these things affected his relationship with his daughter is a pleasant surprise. These scenes and others that deal with the way they relate to each other are the best in the movie. The presence of Eastwood and Adams doesn’t hurt either, but while the writing is flawed, the basic premise is solid and the movie works overall. Definitely this is not one just for baseball fans or geriatrics.

REASONS TO GO: Eastwood is always engaging and Adams makes a nice foil for him. Baseball sequences are good. Some nice dialogue and character development.

REASONS TO STAY: Predictable. Would have been better without a generic antagonist.

FAMILY VALUES: The language can get salty; there are some sexual references and some of the themes are pretty heavy.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Eastwood, who had announced that the 2008 film Gran Torino would be his last on-camera appearance came out of acting retirement to star in long-time producing partner Lorenz’ first film as a director.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/2/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 54% positive reviews. Metacritic: 58/100. The reviews are mediocre.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Bull Durham

ATLANTA BRAVES LOVERS: The team Gus works for is the Braves;  the walls of the Braves offices (and Gus’ home) are decorated with pictures of their greatest players going back to their days as the Milwaukee Braves.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Ong Bak 2

Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life


Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life

Get your motor running?

(2003) Action (Paramount) Angelina Jolie, Gerard Butler, Ciaran Hinds, Til Schweiger, Djimon Hounsou, Noah Taylor, Christopher Barrie, Simon Yam, Terence Yin, Daniel Caltagirone, Fabiano Martell, Jonathan Coyne. Directed by Jan de Bont

 

Video games have had a terrible time translating into movies. Maybe because they lack that interactive factor that hooks gamers so thoroughly, or maybe it is because Hollywood doesn’t understand the gamer market. I think the most important factor is that most of the movies based on video games have been pretty bad.

The second installment of the video game franchise turned movie adaptation is pretty basic. An earthquake on Santorini, the remains of the legendary Thera volcano in Greece, unearths a temple that brings all sorts of treasure hunters eager to check it out, including Lara Croft (Jolie). After Lara discovers a mysterious golden orb in the ruin, it is immediately stolen by Chen Lo (Yam), a high-ranking Chinese triad leader who is working for bioterror merchant Jonathan Reiss (Hinds) who believes it to be a map to the location of the legendary Pandora’s Box.

Except that the Pandora’s Box is actually a terrible weapon, one capable of destroying all life on earth, yadda yadda yadda. Lara is approached by MI-6 to enlist her aid in getting back the trinket, and to do so, she needs the help of someone who has worked for the bad guy. Conveniently, Terry Sheridan (Butler), a former lover of hers who is rotting in a jail in Kazakhstan fits the bill. The two travel to Asia to retrieve the orb, which Croft cronies Bryce (Taylor) and Hillary (Barrie) discover is activated by musical notes.

Lara and Terry must infiltrate the rural hideout of Chen Lo and retrieve the Orb – but when they do, they discover it’s not there. They then have to head to Shanghai where they are too late to interrupt the exchange between Chen Lo’s flunkies and Reiss. Lara must steal it from the heart of the dragon, so to speak and this leads her to a break-up with Terry, whom she doesn’t fully trust. It also leads her to Africa, where her friend Kosa (Hounsou) will lead her to an ancient tribe of guardians. They warn of shadow guardians, creatures who live in the darkness that will pluck out of existence the unwary and those who would enter the Cradle of Life, where the Box rests. Unfortunately, it is there that Reiss will catch up with her and the fight for the future of the world will truly begin.

To this point, Angelina Jolie had always left me flat. While I would come to appreciate her in later films, when I saw this I not a member of her fan club. Re-watching the movie recently didn’t change my opinion – you don’t get a sense that she really cared much about this film or this character. I felt this was more of a paycheck than a performance and maybe it’s a good thing that the film franchise died here, although a reboot of it is currently in the works.

Of course there are the special effects, which are considerable. The Shadow Guardians scene is particularly well-executed, and the Cradle of Life environment is vertigo-inducing in a good way. And, the rest of the cast is pretty nifty. Hinds makes an outstanding bad guy, and Butler is a riveting romantic lead, a bad guy with a heart of slightly tarnished gold. Hounsou is fine as an African guide, and holdovers  Barrie and Taylor from the first film are woefully under-utilized as Lara’s violent butler and resident computer genius.

I want to like this movie more than I do. When I watched it I was suitably entertained, and will probably wind up purchasing it. There are flaws, but director Jan De Bont overcomes a lot of them by keeping the action non-stop, something the man who gave us Speed understands very well. Although I find Jolie not my personal cup of tea, I have to admit she looks the part and she handles her stunts rather well. However, there’s a difference between expressing self-confidence and smirking and the latter is very unattractive.

WHY RENT THIS: Nifty special effects and action sequences. Butler, in his first major role, is roguishly charming.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Jolie may look the part but lacks heart. The plot is a bit banal.

FAMILY MATTERS: There is a goodly amount of violence, a few mildly bad words here and there and some fairly intense making out.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Jolie is the only actor in the film who was American-born.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There are a couple of music videos and Gerard Butler’s screen test.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $156.5M on a $95 production budget; the film lost money during its theatrical run.

COMPARISON SHOPPING:King Solomon’s Mines

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Brave

Bruce Almighty


Bruce Almighty

Walking on water is no big deal to these guys but STANDING on water, now that's a feat!

(2003) Drama (Universal) Jim Carrey, Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Aniston, Phillip Baker Hall, Catherine Bell, Lisa Ann Walter, Steve Carell, Nora Dunn, Eddie Jemison, Paul Satterfield, Mark Kiely, Sally Kirkland, Tony Bennett. Directed by Tom Shadyac

Not being the biggest fan of Jim Carrey in the world, I came into this movie fully expecting to, at best, just tolerate my two hours in his company. Then, something funny happened on the way to my expectations; I actually found myself laughing. I was enjoying America’s favorite rubberface.

Carrey plays Bruce Nolan, an on-camera reporter for a Buffalo television channel who dreams of being an anchor, of being respected and admired by the community. He is known for doing the “lighter” news and for being taken less seriously, both by his colleagues and the community. Just when he thinks he’s getting somewhere, a smarmy colleague (Carell) goes behind his back and nabs the anchor job Bruce wanted. When Bruce finds out (in the middle of a live feed from Niagara Falls), he loses it and consequently, gets canned.

His long-suffering girlfriend Grace (Anniston) waits patiently for Bruce to commit, but he is way too absorbed in his own career to notice. And as things begin to go wrong, Bruce looks to God for answers. The answers that come, however, aren’t much to Bruce’s liking, and the newscaster launches into a tirade against the Almighty, blaming Him for all of Bruce’s troubles.

Of course, this being Hollywood, God hears Bruce and God responds with an invitation to visit Him in His office. And God looks uncannily like Morgan Freeman, which is pretty much how I imagined Him too … well, OK, more in a George Burns kind of way, but close enough.

Since Bruce thinks he can do a better job than the Big Guy, God invests Bruce with His powers and invites him to take over the job (which works out, since Bruce is between positions at the time). Now, Bruce happens to be a broadcast journalist, which is to say, completely self-absorbed, so naturally he uses his powers to resurrect his stalled career, utilizing a few “scoops” (conveniently “discovering” the body of Jimmy Hoffa in a police training ground, and “happening” to be around when a meteor hits. And when it comes time to answer prayers, Bruce just grants them … with devastating effect.

Of course, the consequences of these events are more far-reaching than Bruce realizes and things go from bad to worse in the world. And, as Bruce gets everything he wants, he realizes that everything he wants isn’t necessarily what is important to him. And what is really important to him is drifting away.

I like the movie for a lot of reasons. For one thing, it’s not an over-the-top Jim Carrey-fest, which I feared it would be. If the Ace Ventura movies were your speed, you may be disappointed with how subdued Carrey is here. Aniston is wonderful; at this point in her career she was catching up with Meg Ryan as the queen of romantic comedy, a title which has sadly eluded her since.

This is a movie that is not so much about faith as it is about values. Bruce is unhappy mainly because he confuses his own needs with his value system. The things that he is chasing with nearly obsessive focus are transitory and in the scheme of things, only self-defining at the surface. The deeper, intrinsic things that define us are the things we tend to push aside in favor of career and acclaim. Faith merely helps us see what is already there.

The sight gags and effects are pretty nifty, and there’s a really awesome sequence wherein Bruce sabotages the backstabbing anchor using his powers to – well, make him speak in tongues.

I didn’t expect to like this movie as much as I did. There is a certain sweetness to it, and the leads are well-cast and lovable, and the message is a bit deeper than the average summer comedy. Any movie that can make me cry and laugh in the same two hours is doing something right.

WHY RENT THIS: Carrey is at his most appealing and Aniston shows why she is one of the best comediennes today. Appealing, warm-hearted and doesn’t beat you in the face with a message of faith. Freeman makes an awesome God!

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A little more schtick than there needed to be.

FAMILY MATTERS: Some of the humor is a little crude, and there is a bit of foul language and sexuality as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The riot scene was filmed in the Universal backlot set made famous as the town square of Hill Valley. The clock tower can clearly be seen.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: There are some outtakes and bloopers, but that’s it.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $484.6M on an $84M production budget; the movie was a blockbuster.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Contagion

TRON: Legacy


TRON: Legacy

Sam is a little irritated that the library wants their books back; Cora is just disappointed.

(2010) Science Fiction (Disney) Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner, Michael Sheen, James Frain, Beau Garrett, Anis Cheurfa, Cillian Murphy, Daft Punk, Jeffrey Nordling, Dan Joffre, Mi-Jung Lee, Dale Wolfe. Directed by Joseph Kosinski

We are all haunted by the ghosts of our past. In the case of movies, they are haunted by the movies that have come before them, sometimes many of them.

Sam Flynn (Hedlund) has good reason to be angry. His father, eccentric software genius Kevin Flynn (Bridges) deserted him when he was 12, disappearing into a miasma of rumor and innuendo, leaving his giant corporation Encom essentially in the hands of those he despised with only his good friend Alan Bradley (Boxleitner) holding his fingers in the dyke.

Sam expresses his anger by pulling spectacular pranks on his company (like releasing their new operating system software to the Internet so that people can use it for free rather than have to pay exorbitant amounts for it – take that Bill Gates!) that he takes no other interest in. He’s a bit of a spoiled rich kid with plenty of toys but no direction.

Then Bradley gets a page from the arcade that the elder Flynn started out with from a number that’s been disconnected for years. Sam expresses disinterest but at last curiosity wins out and he decides to check out the arcade, which is in marvelous shape despite the nearly 30 years that have passed since people last brought quarters in to play their machines (in a nice nod to the first film, “Separate Ways” by Journey blasts from the jukebox). He discovers a hidden door behind the vintage TRON machine and heads into his father’s secret room where a computer far more advanced than what we even have now sits. Sam had always been entertained about his father’s tales of being  beamed into the grid; is this where his father actually travelled into the electronic frontier?

Of course it is. Sam is beamed down there and is immediately captured and sent to the gaming grid, at first mistaken for a rogue program. When it is discovered that he is a user he is brought before a mysterious masked figure who appears to be the head honcho of the grid. The mask comes off and it’s – his dad, but the same as he was 30 years ago. Sam discovers quickly that he’s not quite his dad.

This is Clu (Bridges, using the same de-aging software found in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), a program his dad had written to help create the perfect electronic society but this version of his dad is obsessive and somewhat cruel. He sends Sam out to be executed in the light-cycle arena but Sam is saved by the beautiful Cora (Wilde) who takes him to his dad in a sanctuary outside the grid where grid vehicles can’t travel.

There he finds his real dad, looking every bit the aging guru (not unlike the Big Lebowski two decades later) in a white robe and bare feet. Grizzled as a man exiled from his home and family might be, he has gone from being cocky and reckless to being almost afraid of taking any sort of action. His Zen has become his pen.

It turns out that Clu decided he didn’t like the way Flynn was running things, so he took over, destroying Flynn’s electronic partner Tron (Boxleitner) in the process. Clu is obsessed with perfection and thinks that he can take his well-ordered near-fascist state out into the other world, which he has yet to be able to do. However, should he get Flynn’s identity disk he’ll not only be able to do it, he has amassed a gigantic army in order to take over our world and make it over in his own image.

Sam is incensed that his dad wants to sit in his lonely castle and wait until the portal that Sam opened closes on its own (the power it takes to maintain an open portal is tremendous and they close usually after about eight hours). He figures that he can go to the outside world and delete Clu with a keystroke. However, he has to get back to the portal to escape and Cora tells him there’s one man who can do it; a man called Zoos (Sheen).

Zoos however has his own agenda and things take a turn for the worse, forcing Dad to come to Sam and Cora’s rescue. However in the process, Flynn’s identity disk falls into Clu’s hands, leading to a final showdown between maker and machine.

There is a lot to like about this movie. Unfortunately, I wanted to like it more and left feeling a bit disappointed. That may be because I do believe the trailers and the hype set the bar awfully high and it may be that the movie just didn’t quite get to that bar. Perhaps on its own merits I might have given it a higher score; do keep that in mind as you read on.

The visuals here are absolutely dazzling. Those that remember the graphics of the original TRON will be pleased that the sequel takes those images and refines them, keeping the essence of the filmmaker’s intentions rather than redefining the wheel – they are merely redrawing it with a better pencil.  That’s a very good idea.

Bridges, who I believe filmed this before his Oscar-winning turn in Crazy Heart is at the top of his game here. He is both the megalomaniacal Clu and the Zen surfer dude Flynn, as well as the grizzled disappointed Flynn. He is really playing three different roles and he imbues them each with their own subtleties. I had never considered him one of the best actors of our generation, but I’m beginning to change my mind on that score.

Hedlund looks and sounds a lot like a young Brad Pitt here and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. When held up against Bridges, you have to feel for him; he’s just not in that league quite yet. However, he makes a serviceable hero here, both vulnerable and ballsy at the same time. I was more impressed with Wilde, who is beautiful, mysterious and physical, all blending well together in a single core role. For my money, she has the looks and talent to be an A-list actress if she gets more roles like this one. Sheen has an entertaining supporting role as an outgoing Zoos who is equal parts David Bowie, Liza Minnelli and the Merovingian from the Matrix movies.

A quick word about the soundtrack. It was composed and performed by the French electronic duo Daft Punk (they make a cameo appearance as masked DJs in Zoos’ club) and it is one of the best movie soundtrack’s I’ve heard, maybe since Vangelis’ Chariots of Fire. It perfectly compliments the mood and the environment of the movie, plus the music stands up on its own without the visuals.

In fact, the movie has a lot of the Wachowski Brothers epic trilogy in it, as well as 2001: A Space Odyssey. There are positives and minuses about both of those elements which you take with a certain amount of salt. However, what I had more problems with is that the movie has long sequences where it drags, such as when father, son and Cora are riding a long train to the Portal near the end, or when Sam is investigating his dad’s page early on. The movie is at its best when it is at its most kinetic; any gamer will tell you that a game is only as good as its action and the more of it the better.

REASONS TO GO: The visuals are dazzling, a must-see. Hedlund resembles a young Brad Pitt both in look and in performance. Wilde makes a bid to be an A-list actress.

REASONS TO STAY: While the movie looks good it can’t really live up to the anticipation. There are long stretches where it drags.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of sci-fi action and some of the littlest tykes might be put off by the derezzing. There’s also a little bit of bad language but quite frankly there’s nothing here that most parents should prevent their kids from coming to see.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: There’s a hidden Mickey in the film; check out the back of Sam’s motorcycle helmet.

HOME OR THEATER: Very much the theater. These visuals should be seen in an epic scope. However, the 3D I found essentially unnecessary and added nothing to the film.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Gamer


No matter how mad Terry Crews gets, Gerard Butler won't share his candy.

No matter how mad Terry Crews gets, Gerard Butler just won't share his candy.

(Lionsgate) Gerard Butler, Amber Valetta, Michael C. Hall, Logan Lerman, Alison Lohman, Kyra Sedgwick, Ludacris, John Leguizamo, Zoe Bell, Terry Crews, Ramsey Moore, Aaron Yoo, Jonathan Chase, Brighid Fleming. Directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor

Almost since the advent of Pong, certain parental groups have decried the violence in videogames. Once you’ve fragged enough aliens, monsters or opposing soldiers, what’s left to do?

In the near future, gaming has evolved to the next level. Instead of controlling pixels on a television or computer screen, technology developed by techno-genius Ken Castle (Hall) enables gamers to control actual human beings. At first, it’s fairly benign in the social networking game “Society,” in which paid actors act out the fantasy of their controllers, thanks to a nanochip embedded in the brains of the actors that allow the gamers to broadcast instructions directly into the brains of the actors, who then perform any action the gamers wish like a marionette on a string. Apparently what most gamers wish in this dystopian future is softcore porn and raves.

The next step in this process is Slayers, a game featuring death row convicts who battle it out in a gritty urban arena with automatic weapons and grenades. Should the convict survive 30 battles, they are given their release, inspiring a wealth of potential slayers.

The best slayer is Kable (Butler), who has come as close as anyone to achieving freedom. However, he knows a little bit too much about the nanotech developed by Castle, so the multi-billionaire has set Kable up to fall, using a very angry avatar named Hackman (Crews) who has no player, which allows Hackman to act independently without any lag time, a huge advantage over the other slayers who have a several second lag between gamer command and slayer action. Fortunately, Kable’s gamer Simon (Lerman) is very, very good at what he does.

Not everyone thinks this is a perfect world. A group of techno-terrorists who call themselves Humanz are led by Brother (Ludacris), who hack into the game feed, much to the annoyance of Castle and cause all sorts of havoc. A popular interviewer/journalist named Gina Parker Smith (Sedgwick) is also suspicious of what Castle is doing and wants to know more about the Humanz.

Kable doesn’t care about any of this. He’s more concerned about getting back to his wife Angie (Valletta) and daughter (Fleming). Angie is working as one of the actresses in the Society milieu, controlled by an astoundingly obese gamer named Gorge (Moore). Kable soon begins to understand that there is no winning the game, only escaping – and once he escapes, can he save his family from the slavery that Castle intends to unleash upon the world?

Neveldine and Taylor are best known for their movie Crank which was like a videogame on steroids, and was one of the most entertaining action movies of the past few years. They do have the action thing in the bag, as the Slayer action sequences are plenty cool. What happens in between is a little bit less copacetic. I can see where they’re going with this – a commentary on the desensitizing of society and the gaming culture in general. Still, it’s hard to believe that anyone would ever allow another human being complete control of their body, no matter how desperate they were.

Butler is becoming one of my favorite actors working, but this won’t be remembered as a role he nailed. Kable has pretty much no personality whatsoever and while you’re ostensibly rooting for him, the fact of the matter is that you don’t really have much reason to care for him. Hall is actually kind of entertaining as the nerdy but arrogant tech whiz who performs a lip-synch dance to the Sammy Davis Jr. chestnut “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” with his lackeys (every good villain’s gotta have lackeys) doing a dance number along with him. That’s one of the better moments in the movie and shows the kind of flair, humor and imagination that the Neveldine/Taylor duo has at their best.

Unfortunately, this isn’t their best. A good videogame has a storyline that you want to follow through to its conclusion; at the very least, you can’t wait to experience what comes next. In this case, what comes next is predictable to the point where you’re checking your watch to see if its time to go yet. It isn’t the worst movie that will be released this year, but there aren’t many compelling reasons to go out of your way to see it.

REASONS TO GO: Some decent action sequences, and that’s about it.

REASONS TO STAY: Butler sleepwalks through his poorly written part. Neveldine/Taylor make movies for adrenaline junkies and this won’t sate even the most hardcore of fans.

FAMILY VALUES: Violence, a whole bunch of it and nudity, as well as sexual situations plus lots of bad language; not for the kiddies.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Rather than using graphics that say “The End” at the conclusion of a film, directors Neveldine and Taylor use “GAME OVER INSERT COIN,” bringing to mind videogames from the ‘80s.

HOME OR THEATER: Skip it altogether, but if you must see it, you can wait for the home video release.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: The Hunting Party