The Family Fang


A family photo of a fractured family.

A family photo of a fractured family.

(2015) Dramedy (Starz Media) Nicole Kidman, Jason Bateman, Christopher Walken, Maryanne Plunkett, Kathryn Hahn, Jason Butler Harner, Josh Pais, Marin Ireland, Harris Yulin, Michael Chernus, Eugenia Kuzmina, Linda Emond, Mackenzie Brooke Smith, Jaiden Kaine, Grainger Hines, Scott Shepherd, Steve Witting, Danny Burstein, Taylor Rose, Genevieve Adams. Directed by Jason Bateman

Florida Film Festival 2016

Family isn’t always the way you envision it to be. Different families have different dynamics and what works for one might not necessarily work for another. And not all families are necessarily benevolent to their children either.

Caleb Fang (Harner) is an Artist (note the capital). He believes in Art above all else. His art is subversive performance art, usually utilizing his wife (Hahn) and children, whom he refers to as A and B. He has the kids pose as bank robbers, street buskers and other bizarre things without the general public knowing what’s going on. Caleb films everything to see the reaction of passersby. In an era before YouTube, he becomes a sensation in the art world but his kids grow up hating that their childhood was essentially hijacked in the name of art.

As adults, Baxter Fang (Bateman) has become a novelist who has written one good book and then one that he characterizes as “divisive,” and in the throes currently of a ginormous writer’s block. Annie Fang (Kidman) is an actress who, like most actresses of a certain age, is getting fewer and fewer good parts. When Baxter covers a redneck sporting event (in an effort to make some cash while his muse has dried up) and sustains a freakish head injury, his parent offer to help him convalesce. Baxter, terrified of being alone with Caleb (Walken) and Camille (Plunkett), convinces his reluctant sister to come along and save him.

Of course, Caleb wants to involve his children in a new art piece but when they refuse he gets extremely angry. Annie is hoping to snag a part that would jumpstart her career again and Baxter…well he’s still recovering and still can’t write a word. However when their parents turn up missing and later their car is found with Caleb’s blood on the front seat, both of the siblings are extremely concerned. Has something awful truly happened, or could this be their greatest prank ever?

Bateman, who debuted as a director with the solid Bad Words does well with this adaptation of the bestselling novel by Kevin Wilson. This is a bit different than his previous effort as there is as much drama here as comedy. Bateman has always been a fine comic actor but shows some dramatic chops here and shows he can actually do some fine dramatic work. Considering he’s working off of Walken and Kidman, both of whom are extremely talented actors in their own right, he not only holds up with them but stands out. This is by far the most complex character he’s had to play in a movie yet.

Kidman and Walken also deliver solid performances, Walken in particular stealing the screen with his patented laser beam stare. Veteran stage actress Plunkett also kicks in with a fine screen performance. In the flashback sequences, Hahn is solid as is Harner, and Burstein and Emond also deliver noteworthy support. Bateman is clearly establishing himself as an actor’s director, and this kind of darkly comic material is right in his wheelhouse.

The only problem is that the middle third is a bit slow but it does kick it up a notch during the final third of the film. Other than that, this is a fine dark comedy with dramatic overtones that examine the dynamics of the dysfunctional family, how parents sometimes don’t do what’s best for their kids so much as what’s best for themselves and finally, the difference between art and Art and why one is superior and the other pretentious.

REASONS TO GO: Jason Bateman gives one of his best performances ever. The humor is subversive.
REASONS TO STAY: Drags a bit in the middle.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s a fair amount of cussing.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Nicole Kidman’s father visited her on the upstate New York set, but that was the last time they would see each other as he passed away on September 14, 2014. The world premiere would be exactly one year to the day of his death.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/11/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 78% positive reviews. Metacritic: 67/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: I Heart Huckabees
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Louder Than Bombs

Neighbors


Are you talking to Zac Efron?

Are you talking to Zac Efron?

(2014) Comedy (Universal) Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jerrod Carmichael, Brian Huskey, Carla Gallo, Halston Sage, Craig Roberts, Ali Cobrin, Kira Sternbach, Steven Michael Eich, Hannibal Buress, Jake Johnson, Lisa Kudrow, Jason Mantzoukas, Liz Cackowski, Randall Park, Natasha Leggero. Directed by Nicholas Stoller

Before the Second World War, the desirable places to live were in the cities. After all, they were close to jobs and all the cities had to offer in terms of entertainment and culture. But a funny thing happened on the way to the Postwar era – people began to move out of cities and into the suburbs. They wanted yards. They wanted families. They wanted space.

Mac (Rogen) and Kelly (Byrne) Radner want all that. And, at last, they have it. With a beautiful baby daughter named Stella, a gorgeous house in the ‘burbs of a small college town and a bright future ahead, they have everything they’ve always wanted and more.

Then their new neighbors move in and it turns out to be a fraternity house. Gamely, they decide to meet their new neighbors and show how “cool” and “down with it” they are which is the reality of a 30-something trying to impress a 20-something with how knowledgeable they are about current trends, slang and culture which, as everyone who’s ever been a 30-something knows, is doomed to fail miserably. The president of the frat, Teddy (Efron) is amiable enough and advised by his best bro and right-hand vice-president Pete (Franco) decides to make nice with the neighbors, inviting them to a blow-out party. They leave the next morning, promising to call Teddy first if they get too loud.

Of course, the next time they get too loud Mac and Kelly’s repeated phone calls go unanswered and they are forced to call the cops in the form of perhaps the most incompetent policeman ever, Officer Watkins (Buress) who rats out the chagrined couple to the frat. From then on, it’s war.

It becomes an endless barrage of escalating pranks. It gets to the point that the couple desperately attempt to sell their house but as the supercilious real estate agent (Cackowski) informs them, nobody will buy a house next to a frat. They even go to the university for relief, but the snooty dean (Kudrow) is more concerned with headlines than actual issues and the headline “Frat keeps couple and baby awake” isn’t likely to cause problems for the University. Finally, Mac and Kelly decide to go on the offensive with the emphasis on “offense.” They become aware that the frat has two strikes against them and should there be another incident, they’ll be dissolved. It’s time to pull out all the stops.

Seth Rogen has been making a career out of playing the amiable, good-hearted stoner and there’s no reason for him to deviate from that course here. What’s different is that he’s a little older now and that guys of his generation are becoming husbands and fathers and are having to forego the life of partying that is part of being young and without responsibility.

And that is the crux of the matter here. Both Mac and Kelly are facing a turning point in their lives; they have a life and a responsibility to provide for someone completely dependent on them. They are moving kicking and screaming into adulthood and they are taking one last wistful look at the life they once had. It is to their credit (and the filmmakers) that they end up embracing their responsibilities rather than running away as is often the case in Hollywood (and in life as well). The frat represents freedom to a certain extent and who wouldn’t be tempted?

The lion’s share of the funny stuff go to Rogen, Efron (who shows surprisingly deft comic touch here) and Byrne. Franco and Teddy’s inner circle – Scoonie (Mintz-Plasse) and Garf (Carmichael) – have little to do except look…er, stoned. And therein lies some of the movie’s great failings.

The movie can be funny and some of the pranks, although not always realistic as in the case of the funniest one involving an automotive safety feature. The problem here is that it’s a bit of a one-trick pony – Rogen consumes enough weed to make Bill O’Reilly’s intake look like both Cheech and Chong. I’m okay with stoner humor but one of the issues I have with it is that there is such an overreliance on repetition. It’s a whole lot funnier when you’re baked.

Some critics have been giving this a pass and far be it for me to dispute matters of personal taste but I don’t see anything really innovative here. I’m one of those killjoys who think that a good comedy shouldn’t only be funny when you’re stoned. Call me a philistine if you like.

REASONS TO GO: Some really funny moments. Captures the moment of maturity nicely.

REASONS TO STAY: Overkill on weed humor. One-trick pony. Adds nothing new.

FAMILY VALUES: All sorts of crude content, foul language, sexual content, drug use and graphic nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Real life couple Megan Mullaly and Nick Offerman filmed a cameo as Scoonie’s parents but it was left on the cutting room floor.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/20/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 74% positive reviews. Metacritic: 68/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The ‘Burbs

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Dom Hemingway

Real Genius


Party on, nerds!

Party on, nerds!

(1985) Comedy (Tri-Star) Val Kilmer, Gabe Jarret, Michelle Meyrink, William Atherton, Jonathan Gries, Patti D’Arbanville, Stacy Peralta, Ed Lauter, Louis Giambalvo, Charles Shull, Robert Prescott, Mark Kamiyama, Tom Swerdlow, Randolph Dreyfuss, Dean Devlin, Yuji Okumoto, Deborah Foreman, Monte Landis, Paul Tulley, Joanne Baron, Charles Parks, Beau Billingslea. Directed by Martha Coolidge

I have to admit having a great deal of fondness for movies that came out in the 80s. I was in my 20s back then (ugh!) and although I was already skewing towards a demographic that movies weren’t serving quite so much, I was still close enough to it to relate.

The 80s were kind of a transitional period, moving away from the anti-heroes that were the rage in the 70s and more towards lighter, fluffier movies that started with Star Wars and continued as special effects began to become more sophisticated. It was also a great era for comedy as directors like the recently departed Harold Ramis, the late John Hughes and Ivan Reitman were all turning out classics like Ghostbusters, Sixteen Candles and Caddyshack.

One of the more underrated comedies of that era was Real Genius. Directed by Martha Coolidge who had previously helmed Valley Girl, the movie was somewhat akin to Revenge of the Nerds which had been released the previous year.

Mitch Taylor (Jarret) is a 15-year-old science prodigy who has been accepted into the physics program at Pacific Tech (a ringer for Cal Tech) headed by none other than television scientist and personality Dr. Jerry Hathaway (Atherton). Not only that, he’ll be rooming with Chris Knight (Kilmer), a legend in the honors student community who is now a senior at Pacific Tech.

However, Mitch finds that college isn’t exactly the way he thought it would be. The brilliant Knight is more interested in partying and playing elaborate practical jokes than he is in studying and preparing to become the next generation of scientists and engineers that will shape the future of our world. And, just like in high school, there are a group of bullies led by Kent (Prescott) who mercilessly badger and tease young Mitch. Kent it seems is insecure about his position with Dr. Hathaway and sees Mitch as a threat – and for good reason as it turns out as Dr. Hathaway puts Mitch in charge of finding a way to power a four megawatt laser, a project both Chris and Kent had previously been in charge of.

However, things aren’t all bad although the pressure on Mitch is spectacular. He meets Jordan (Meyrink), a hyperactive insomniac who is sweet on him – and vice versa. There is also a mysterious figure who lives in his closet, one Lazlo Hollyfeld (Gries) who was smarter than both Mitch and Chris but cracked when he found out the research that he was doing had been used for weapons.

The stress is growing to the breaking point for Mitch despite Chris’ admonition to blow off steam. The pressure is also growing on Dr. Hathaway, who had been given a grant to get results but was fobbing off the work on his students (who were working for free) and using the money to remodel his house. At last he tells Chris that the job waiting for him after he graduates will evaporate – in fact, he won’t graduate because Dr. Hathaway will fail him no matter what he does in class.

After a disastrous test melts down the laser (due to sabotage from Kent), Chris has an epiphany and gets the laser to work. However, when Lazlo wonders why they are celebrating, he asks them what the use of such a powerful laser would be and there is only one – as a weapon. Devastated, these brilliant students must find a way to make sure their research is never used – and at the same time, get even with those who betrayed them.

The humor here is more gentle and less raunchy than what we’re used to today, and there is a certain amount of sweetness, particularly in the relationship between Mitch and Jordan. Kilmer, who more often than not has been cast in dramatic roles in his career, was at that point a fine comic actor (remember Top Secret?) who had a bit of a quirky edge to him. He is really the center of the movie in many ways although the protagonist is ostensibly Mitch.

Jarret was a bit underwhelming as Mitch although I suspect that is as much by design as anything else. Mitch, as written, is a bit of a doormat so at times the character seems to be dragged about by whatever current is taking him. That makes it hard for an audience to get behind him and certainly to remember him. Easily it will be Meyrink and Kilmer who most will remember about this movie.

While the film is a bit dated in places (anything about technology will look dated 20 and 30 years on), the science is surprisingly sound (with the exception of the final prank which was recently debunked by Mythbusters). To this day, a laser as powerful as the one depicted here has yet to be invented although by the standards of the time the theory was apparently sound.

While this isn’t my favorite film or even my favorite comedy from the era, it remains one of those pleasures I’ve seen dozens of times and never get tired of. It doesn’t re-invent the wheel, Coolidge has a decent story to work with that she tells flawlessly and the performances are spot on. While some young whippersnappers have complained about the soundtrack, it is evocative of its times and any movie that spotlights Tears for Fears “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” is okay in my book.

WHY RENT THIS: Light and fun, not to mention funny. Kilmer is a fine comic actor. The science is also surprisingly sound.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Somewhat dated in places.

FAMILY VALUES:  A few bad words, some sensuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In the scene where a procession of cars is arranged for a test firing of the laser, the cars are set up to mirror the motorcade of President Kennedy when he was assassinated.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $12.9M on an unreported production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Weird Science

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: The Lie

Monsters University


Mike Wazowski gets an eyeful.

Mike Wazowski gets an eyeful.

(2012) Animated Feature (Disney*Pixar) Starring the voices of Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Nathan Fillion, Helen Mirren, Steve Buscemi, Peter Sohn, Joel Murray, Sean Hayes, Dave Foley, Charlie Day, Alfred Molina, Tyler Labine, Aubrey Plaza, Bobby Moynihan, Julia Sweeney, Bonnie Hunt, John Krasinski, Bill Hader, John Ratzenberger, Frank Oz, Lori Alan. Directed by Dan Scanlon

College is a nifty place. While we’re there, we’re kind of in a neither-nor phase of life – our responsibilities are few but we get to hang out, goof off and drink beer at fairly unreasonable rates. Of course, we’re supposedly learning things as well but college often teaches us more about life than about the vocation we’re about to embark on.

Mike Wazowski (Crystal) has dreamed of being a scarer ever since he was a little eyeball. Now he’s a teenage eyeball with one eye on his future and one eye on his dreams which can be complicated when you only have one eye. Oh, in case you didn’t see Monsters Inc. which is the movie this is a prequel to, scarers are monsters who enter dimensional doorways into the rooms of children in the human world. Said monsters scare the little vermin into screaming and those screams are used to power the monster world. I say little vermin for a reason; to monsters, human children are toxic and to be avoided at all costs.

His roommate is James P. Sullivan (Goodman), an eight-feet tall furry blue Bigfoot who comes from a long line of scarers and as a legacy at Monsters University expects to sail through – he shows up at class without book, pen or paper. He is immediately snatched by the high and mighty ROR fraternity whose preppy devil of a leader, Johnny Worthington (Fillion) sees a kindred spirit in Sully.

Overseeing all of this is Dean Hardscrabble (Mirren), a kind of cross between a dragon, a centipede, a scorpion and the demon of Bald Mountain with a patrician British accent. She herself is an ex-record breaking scarer and started a Greek games kind of competition to discover the best scarer on campus.

Mike and Sully take to each other like Mariah Carey and Nikki Minaj, only more civilized. A rivalry forms between Mike, who is brilliant and hardworking but has no natural scariness, and Sully who has all the tools he needs but none of the drive or the work ethic. When their shenanigans get them expelled from the Scarer Program at MU, they realize that the only way back into the program is to win the Scare Games and in order to do that, they’ll have to join a frat. The only one that will have them are the misfits of Oozma Kappa, led by Squishy (Sohn) mainly because the frat house is his mom’s house; new student Don (Murray), an old school car salesman who after being laid off returns to college to get a better education and better life prospects, Art (Day) who looks a little bit like an I-Beam with legs and finally Terry (Foley) and Terri (Hayes), a two headed monster one of whom is a dance major and the other one isn’t. Leading these misfits to the title is going to involve making a team out of them but how can they when both Mike and Sully are way too involved in their own selves to create a team out of individuals?

First, this isn’t as good as Monsters Inc. although it really doesn’t need to be – in my opinion that is one of the best movies to come out of Pixar ever and it really never got the respect it deserves. This isn’t on that level but the good news is that it doesn’t need to be. This is a solidly entertaining effort with plenty of great visual gags and as is usually the case with Pixar movies, enough detail that the movie can be watched a whole lot of times without getting tired – while discovering something new each time you watch it.

Part of the secret to the first film’s success (and this one’s as well) is the chemistry between Crystal and Goodman. They make an excellent yin and yang and banter like they’ve been doing it forever which they kind of have. Both are naturally funny guys with Crystal the manic Borscht belt guy and Goodman the easygoing jock who throws off an occasional killer one-liner when you least expect it.

I have to say I’m not sure it was a good idea to do a prequel; I think that seeing the monster world after the events of Monsters Inc. would have made a far more interesting movie than this one was; the hoary old cliché of best friends starting off as worst enemies (and vice versa in the case of Randall Boggs, the chameleon-like creature voiced by Buscemi) – is there anyone in your life that you started out hating but then wound up as best buddies? Do you know anybody who has a friendship like that?

As their impressive weekend box office figures showed, a lot of families were just waiting on this film to come out and it’s likely to have a pretty strong two week run before Despicable Me opens up over the Independence Day holiday weekend. There has been a dearth of family films this year and it’s about time there was something moms and dads could go see with their kids to get out of the summer heat. Do be aware however that some of the littler kids in the screening at Downtown Disney that we attended had some problems with a couple of the scarier aspects of the monsters (Sully’s roar for example) and while most of the monsters are of the cute ‘n’ cuddly variety, if your child is extremely sensitive you might want to take that into account before going. After all, you can always get the Blu-Ray and let your progeny see the movie after they’re a little older. In any case, I think this is pretty much ideal summertime family entertainment so get your little rug rats dressed up and load up the station wag…err, minivan…and head out to the multiplex if you haven’t already. And maybe again if you already have.

REASONS TO GO: It’s Pixar – even their worst films are better than most animated features.

REASONS TO STAY: May disappoint those looking for something as good as Monsters Inc.

FAMILY VALUES:  Suitable for all audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Pizza Planet truck can be found parked outside the ROR frat house during the party (it has appeared in every Pixar film since Toy Story). Also, the Professor Knights’ scarer 101 course takes place in room A113, a reference to the room at CalArts where animation is taught and another item that appears in every Pixar film

CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/27/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 77% positive reviews. Metacritic: 64/100; solid reviews, the critics definitely liked it.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Accepted

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: The Sixth Sense

Step Brothers


Step Brothers

Cannonballllllllllllllllllll!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(2008) Comedy (Columbia) Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Richard Jenkins, Mary Steenburgen, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, Andrea Savage, Lurie Poston, Elizabeth Yozamp, Logan Manus, Seth Rogen, Rob Riggle, Ken Jeong, Travis Flory. Directed by Adam McKay

 

Blended families are no longer very unusual. The days of the Brady Bunch and Yours, Mine and Ours are pretty much behind us. However, it is pretty unusual to see blended families with middle-aged children living at home.

Brennnan Huff (Ferrell) is the self-centered son of Nancy Huff (Steenburgen), living at home, unemployed and screaming at his mother when his snack food isn’t exactly right. Dale Doback (Reilly) is the peevish son of Dr. Robert Doback (Jenkins) and is also unemployed; he berates his father for not leaving him enough money to order pizza AND soda while he’s away at a convention.

It is at that convention that Nancy and Robert meet, fall in love and eventually get married. It is decided that Brennan will move in with Nancy, Robert and Dale. Initially, Dale and Brennan take to each other pretty much like Texans to Oklahomans. The two try to make each other as miserable as possible, much to their parents anguish. An escalating series of pranks finally comes to a head when Robert orders the two grown men to find work, leading to a series of job interviews that are best left uncommented upon.

After awhile, Dale and Brennan find some common ground – quite a lot, frankly – and begin to change their tunes. However, this could be too little too late and with Brennan’s conniving and status-obsessed little brother Derek (Scott) trying to sabotage their efforts (and Derek’s lusty wife Alice (Hahn) putting the moves on Dale) things are taking a turn for the worse for the two slackers.

Judd Apatow is once again at the producer’s reins here and longtime Ferrell collaborator McKay in the director’s chair, which should mean good things, Unfortunately the comedy magic that has resulted in movies like Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby is largely absent here. There are some good moments to be sure, but the story is pretty weak – it’s kind of a bad episode of the Brady Bunch.

Ferrell and Reilly aren’t the problem here. They make a tremendous team and play off of each other well. The best sequences in the film are those in which Ferrell and Reilly are front and center. Fortunately, most of the time that’s exactly where they are and at their quirky best. I’m not saying the rest of the cast s awful, they simply don’t get much to work with.

The language is pretty darn foul, and at times I think the movie relies too much on profanity which is usually a bad thing – it’s the sign of a lazy writer who doesn’t have particularly much to say – but there are those who think that kind of thing is hilarious, so they’ll like all of this.

Some critics get huffy about this kind of comedy, but let’s face it; even men with the mentalities of adolescent boys deserve a laugh too. That the movie was somewhat disappointing at the box office is indicative that the general moviegoing public may be getting tired of this kind of humor.

WHY RENT THIS: Ferrell and Reilly are among the best comedy teams there are. Quirky in a good way.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The story is weak and the cast never really lives up to expectations. Some of the gags fall flat.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is a lot of bad language and a fair amount of sexual content.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Steenburgen, who plays Ferrell’s mom, played his step-mother in Elf.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a music video, as well as a gag reel and the regular Judd Apatow “Line-o-Rama” feature. There is also a segment in which Apatow gives actress Charlyne Yi permission to live on the set, which causes some problems. There’s also a bit in which Jenkins pursues Steenburgen amorously, incurring the ire of real-life husband Ted Danson (and there’s a fabulous mystery cameo here). There are a series of job interview segments that were cut from the film and some additional therapy scenes as well.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $128.1M on a $65M production budget; the movie essentially broke even.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Virginity Hit

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

The Yes Men Fix the World


The Yes Men Fix the World

Just say Yes Men.

(Shadow Distribution) Mike Bonanno, Andy Bichlbaum, Reggie Watts. Directed by Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum

There is no doubt that the world faces many problems, from economic and political injustice to catastrophic climate changes, many of which can be laid at the feet of the greed of men and their institutions. Not all of these problems exist in the light of day; some require inventive thinking to receive any attention at all.

The Yes Men are what I call guerilla performance activists; in their ten years of existence, they create fake websites for major corporations, trade organizations and government entities, and impersonate representatives of the same at speaking engagements. In these guises they make outrageous claims calling attention to the injustices and corruption that they perceive are taking place.

They first came to public attention via a 2003 documentary, The Yes Men. When they created a fake website for the World Trade Organization, they were startled when it was perceived to be real, and offers for speaking engagements were sent. Being rash, somewhat fearless and possessed of an enormous amount of chutzpah, they went on to make outrageous claims purporting to be on behalf of the WTO. This caught the attention of the media who eventually discovered it was a hoax.

Their latest venture is the first to be self-directed, and follows the two of them as they carry out a series of clever pranks. They begin with Bichlbaum posing as Jude Finisterra, a representative of Dow Chemical. On the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster, in which due to the negligence of Union Carbide (which Dow now owns) toxic gasses escaped, killing thousands in Bhopal, India and condemning hundreds of thousands to live with illnesses and birth defects as a direct result of the contamination, the BBC conducts an interview with the Dow “representative” (the BBC had evidently booked him as a result of using one of the Yes Men’s fake websites for Dow).

During the interview, the nervy Yes Man announces that for the first time, Dow was intending to take responsibility for the role in the disaster and would be liquidating the assets of Union Carbide in order to create a $12 billion fund to take care of the affected people of Bhopal.

The news was a sensation. Nearly all of the major media news sources picked it up and Dow’s stock plummeted, a net loss for the corporation of nearly $2 billion in value until the interview was finally revealed to be a hoax. Self-righteous BBC interviewers, perhaps stung that they had allowed the interview to take place, upbraid the Yes Men for cruelly providing false hope to the victims at Bhopal. Bichlbaum responds by pointing out that the pain they may have inflicted on the people of Bhopal was far less than what Union Carbide did to them and what Dow Chemical continues to do; to this day not a penny in reparations have been paid by Dow or Union Carbide to the victims.

While this is the largest and most visible of their pranks, there are several other portrayed here, including appearing as spokesmen for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, proclaiming to post-Katrina New Orleans that undamaged public housing that was slated to be torn down would be in fact left standing to provide affordable housing in a city that increasingly has less and less of it.

They show up at a convention of oil men with a gag that recalls Jonathan Swift; that when conventional petrochemical sources run out, that they were developing a means of refining oil from human remains. They also show up at a seminar of insurance people under the guise of being Halliburton executives touting the “Survivaball,” a ludicrous survival suit that will allow the wearer to survive any global climate catastrophe.

While it must be said that some of the pranks might have caused some discomfort, the truth is that these are situations that need to be covered. In a world where corporate greed is at its apex and that corporate arrogance and disregard for human lives has reached an all-time high, it takes a crusader to point out the consequences of these actions. They may not be wearing suits of armor (cheap suits are more like the uniforms they wear), but they tilt at windmills nonetheless, providing voices of sanity (ironically) amidst the white noise of corporate and political claptrap.

WHY RENT THIS: The movie succeeds in calling attention to issues not necessarily given coverage by mass media.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some of the pranks have a cruel streak in them – not intentionally, but there nonetheless.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of blue language but otherwise suitable for all audiences to a point – some of the issues and humor may be a little bit more than younger kids can handle.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The names of the Yes Men are aliases. The real people portraying them are a teacher and a writer, and both have histories of activism prior to the formation of the Yes Men.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Additional pranks and a “how-to” featurette explaining how to pull off a Yes Men prank are included.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Moon