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paperback_wizard

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3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
A Surprisingly Original Sci-fi Thriller, 5 April 2011
8/10

Source Code is equal parts "Quantum Leap", "12 Monkeys", and "Deja Vu". It has elements of any number of sci-fi thrillers, both classic and modern. And yet, it's one of the most original movies I've seen this year.

Jake Gyllenhaal (Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time) stars as Colter Stevens, an Air Force pilot who must find the bomber of a passenger train before another, even larger bomb is set off in the city of Chicago. He searches by traveling back in time and entering the mind of a passenger who died on the train. He can only stay for eight minutes at a time, but he can keep returning as often as he needs to; as long as he finds the answer in time.

While his mind travels to the past, his body is locked in a mysterious pod. He communicates with the other members of the Source Code project through video; but most of the communication is practically one-way, as the leader of the project, played by Jeffrey Wright (Casino Royale), rarely answers his questions and insists on updates. It's understandable, I suppose, with even more lives at stake, but it doesn't do much for Stevens' state of mind, which is already strained by the time travel. To make things even more complicated, Stevens' begins to fall for one of the passengers, played by Michelle Monaghan (Eagle Eye, Gone Baby Gone).

The movie does a wonderful job of building and holding the suspense. The mystery of the bomber's identity is hardly the only mystery that needs to be solved. Who is Colter Stevens, really? How did he become part of the Source Code project? Can he change the fates of everyone, or anyone, who died on the train? What will his fate be if he fails? What will be his fate if he succeeds? The acting is another gem for this film. Jake Gyllenhaal demonstrates his range as he plays a man increasingly frustrated with the dual tasks of saving lives and discovering his own status. Monaghan is a delight to watch, as she always is, and the chemistry between the two doesn't feel at all forced, as it so often does in thrillers with romantic subplots. Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air, Orphan) plays a sympathetic Air Force captain who tries to guide Stevens through his mission, and even support him when he uncovers the truth about how and why he was chosen for it.

If there is a difference between derivative and unoriginal, then Source Code sets the standard for defining it. The ending, I felt, may have been a bridge too far, but that doesn't change the fact that, in a culture of remakes, sequels, and adaptations, this is one of the few movies that can stand on its own merits. There are elements, as I've written, from several different sci-fi stories, and yet they are weaved together into a surprisingly original thriller.

(Originally appeared at http://fourthdayuniverse.com/reports)

2 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Not a sucker bet, 30 March 2011
7/10

Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch is an original, charming, visually stunning movie that, while it may not win over every theatergoer, still packs a serious one-two punch.

One reviewer described it as Kill Bill meets Inception. I don't know that I'd go that far, but it certainly has elements of both. It's a cerebral action film that operates on several different levels at once. The first level, the "real" world of the movie, is set in a primitive insane asylum where a dishonest orderly abuses and terrorizes the girls under his care. The newest addition to the madhouse is known simply as Baby Doll, played by Emily Browning (The Uninvited, A Series of Unfortunate Events). Baby Doll must find a way to escape the asylum before she really does lose her mind; and she needs to help the other girls escape, as well.

The premise of the movie is simple enough, and rather mundane; but seen through Baby Doll's eyes, it takes place in a multi-level world. The next level up from "reality" is an old-fashioned cabaret, where Baby Doll and the other patients are all dancing girls and the crooked orderly becomes a pimp, renting or even selling them to the high rollers. While the girls gather everything needed to implement Baby Doll's plan to escape, the movie ascends to another, even more exciting level of fantasy, one alternately filled with samurai monsters, steampunk zombie armies, dragon castles, and robot soldiers.

It's certainly one of the most interesting movies I've seen in years. But, there's also plenty to criticize about it. Though it's based on an original story by the director, it is rather derivative. And while the battle sequences that supposedly serve as metaphors for Baby Doll's struggles are captivating, they are far from perfect metaphors. The biggest misfire, though, I'd say is Scott Glenn as the Wise Man. He appears in each fantasy sequence to give Baby Doll and the girls directions. However, his "wisdom" is more than a little cliché, and doesn't always fit in the context of the scenes.

Still, I'd call it a solid effort by Snyder, who is used to adapting other people's stories (Watchmen, 300). The acting and chemistry among the girls is a testament to their acting abilities (the group consists of actresses Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, and Jamie Chung, each of whom is due for a breakout role in film). Oscar Isaacs (Robin Hood, Body of Lies) is convincing as the ruthless orderly/cabaret owner, as is Carla Gugino (Watchmen) as Doctor/Madam Gorski. The film even features a special appearance by Mad Men's Jon Hamm as the High Roller whose arrival would spell the end for Baby Doll.

In the end, much of the criticism of Zack Snyder's latest film, I feel, is unwarranted. This film may not break any box office records, but it's a great film for people who enjoy intrigue, action, and adventure. And really, the "fanservice" isn't all that prevalent, or even that gratuitous. Yes, Baby Doll and the other girls are often shown in either their cabaret outfits or kicking butt in short skirts, but it's all in the context of the story (yeah, I know it sounds cliché, but it's true). The action sequences are fantastic, the visuals are breathtaking, and the camera work is topnotch. The storyline may not challenge you to the degree that Inception did, but it does make you think.

(Originally appeared at http://fourthdayuniverse.com/reports)

Limitless (2011/I)
43 out of 74 people found the following review useful:
It opens your mind, 19 March 2011
7/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Someone asked me once what I thought ADD medication does. I thought about it for a second, and replied, "In the simplest terms, it changes your mind." Sometimes, people's minds need changing. More than just a push or a boost, sometimes people need help remembering things, learning new things, making connections between things they already know, motivating themselves to use that information, etc. In the movie "Limitless", there's a pill that does all of that; and much, much, much more. The tagline for this movie is "What if a pill could make you rich and powerful?" I prefer a line from the trailer: "How many of us ever know what it is to become the perfect version of ourselves?" Bradley Cooper plays Eddie Morra, a writer who can't motivate himself to write his book even when he locks himself in a room with his laptop. He doesn't do drugs (anymore), but anyone who looked at him would swear he was always strung out. He doesn't have anything. One day, Vernon (played by Johnny Whitworth), his ex-brother-in-law who is also his ex-dealer, offers him some help: a clear, little round pill that will clear his mind. Within a minute of taking it, Eddie finds he can remember tiny things from years earlier, make connections between little bits of information that he'd never given so much as a second thought, reason with startling eloquence, and most importantly (to him), slam out ninety pages of his book in one sitting that make his publisher beg for more. Does he want more pills after all this? Absolutely. He's not the only one who wants them, though. Despite Vernon's initial claim that the pill is "FDA-approved", it's clear soon enough that this is nothing you'll ever find in a drugstore. Whoever Vernon got it from (and however he got it), Eddie'll likely never know, because Vernon is murdered shortly after he and Eddie reconnect. Eddie finds Vernon's stash of clear little pills and proceeds to make over his life. He'll need every ounce of intelligence the pills can give him, too, to fend off a ruthless loan shark, the police officer who wants to know Eddie's connection to the dead dealer, and whatever shadowy figure is following him from the moment he starts taking the pills. In the meantime, Eddie realizes he can do far more than write books with his newfound intellect. In a few short days, he makes millions on the stock market, bringing him to the attention of Carl Van Loon, one of the wealthiest, most powerful men in the world, played by Robert De Niro. Carl is more than happy to benefit from Eddie's "freak" status, and even cautions Eddie not to push himself too far. Eddie has the brains, but Carl clearly has the experience (and the resources). He warns Eddie to not try and become his competitor (read: enemy). Finally, Eddie has to deal with the drug's side effects. He has waking blackouts, often finding himself across town, in strange locations, with complete strangers and no memory of how he got there. Withdrawal symptoms are worse than your standard medication, obviously, and stopping could mean hospitalization or worse. Since he doesn't know who makes the pills or where to get more, this is his biggest problem. Or would it be worse to stay on the pills? Eddie claims they're just making him into a better version of himself, but are they, in fact, changing who he is? Do they not just change what you can do, but also what you will do? His girlfriend, played by Abbie Cornish, once had to deal with a man who wouldn't do anything; now, she has to deal with a man for whom there's nothing he wouldn't do. The end of the movie leaves the question of just how much the pills change you unanswered. Based on a novel written by Alan Glynn, this movie has plenty of action sequences to complement the moral dilemma it poses: how far will you go to become a "better" version of yourself? Like all the great science fiction movies, this thriller doesn't focus on the sci-fi aspects, choosing instead to highlight the exploration of humanity on which we embark with the very first scene. And anyone who contemplates medication to improve their lives will certainly find a resonance with the character of Eddie Morra. Watching this movie may not change your mind, but it will certainly open it.

1 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Well, at least there weren't any vampires, 15 March 2011
5/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I'm sorry. I really do want to like Catherine Hardwicke's ("Twilight") version of "Red Riding Hood". It has some beautiful shots of the mountains and forests, right from the beginning of the movie. The "big names", Gary Oldman as the wolf-slaying Father Solomon and Julie Christie as Grandmother, did fine jobs in their roles. Even Amanda Seyfried was somewhat impressive as Valerie, the young lady who wears the red hood.

But that's about all the movie has going for it.

The movie is set in a medieval mountain village that, for the past few decades, has had an uneasy truce with a werewolf (don't bother looking for an explanation of how they reached that truce; it's not forthcoming). The villagers leave their best goat or pig or whatever tied to a post each full moon, and the wolf eats that rather than any of the people. But one day, Lucie, Valerie's sister, is mauled to death by the wolf, and the villagers vow vengeance.

Valerie, meanwhile, has been in love with Peter all her life and plans to run away with him before she is forced to marry Henry. The death of her sister, obviously, puts this plan on hold, giving Valerie's mother enough time to tell Valerie that she herself once had to give up the man she loved to marry the "sensible" choice. I have a feeling screenwriter David Johnson ("Orphan") would have preferred to leave at least that little bit of backstory out, as it's terribly cliché and feels nothing but rushed when discussed; but unfortunately, all of this is very necessary plot exposition, and not just so there will be a liberal sprinkling of red herrings during the second half of the movie.

When Father Solomon arrives in the village, he does his best to sow dissension amongst the villagers so as to make discovering who the werewolf is that much easier. The villagers are faced with the reality that the werewolf could be anyone, even someone they love. The mystery of the wolf's identity deepens when it shows itself to Valerie and speaks to her with its mind. This is where the movie started getting interesting again, for me. Werewolves aren't normally a spotlighted movie monster, despite the fact that the Big Bad Wolf is older than Dracula himself. It's great to see a mysterious and somewhat menacing wolf take center stage.

When Valerie is accused of being a witch and set out as bait for the wolf, certain villagers must decide how much to risk to save her. And that's where the movie loses me again. Peter and Henry, played by relative newcomers Shiloh Fernandez and Max Irons, have a somewhat … aborted rivalry as the two young men who both want to marry Valerie. Their particular subplot fizzles, especially when they both promise to cut the other's head off if one of them turns out to be the wolf. As a love triangle, it's not even a contest. We're shown, from the beginning, that Valerie has eyes only for Peter. Henry even sees them making out (to put it mildly) and stoically promises Valerie that he won't force her to marry him. Thus ends a plot thread that really didn't have anywhere to go, but that, again, couldn't be cut because of how it tied into the wider plot of the movie.

Valerie has a separate moment with both characters (and with several others) trying to decide if they're the wolf that spoke to her. There's enough red herring in this film to make even the hungriest wolf swear off fish forever. Is it the village priest, played by "Inception"s Lukas Haas? Is it one of the jealous village girls who secretly resent the fact that she's better than them at everything? Is it *gasp* a member of her own family? I assure you, by the time you find out, you'll no longer be engaged enough with the movie to be surprised (if the wolf's identity surprises you at all). It's not that the movie drags on; at just over an hour and a half, it could hardly do that. It's just not interesting enough. The potential was there; the potential for mystery, adventure, action, romance, and even horror. The movie just never reaches far enough into any of those categories. With the few exceptions that I mentioned at the beginning of the article, the acting is nothing to be proud of; the dialogue is misplaced, at best (as are the haircuts); and the ending can hardly be said to "pay out". It's a fair take on one of the world's oldest fairy tales; but as seriously as the movie takes itself, it should have been a little more serious.

(Originally appeared at http://fourthdayuniverse.com/reports)

4 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
All the tropes of a war movie and an alien invasion movie, 11 March 2011
7/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Battle: Los Angeles" is the latest addition to one of the oldest stories in science fiction: the alien invasion story. While most movies tend to treat alien invasion movies as disaster films, like "Independence Day", or survivalist films, like "War of the Worlds", "Battle: Los Angeles" treats alien invasions like actual invasions; that is to say, it's a war movie. This is both a good and a bad thing.

It's good because, hey, if you're going for "realism", which all movies seem to want to do these days, there's no other way to handle an alien invasion. You break out the military in full force, and you focus on the fighting. Maybe, if you want to appease the sci-fi fans as well as the average moviegoer, you include some discoveries and theories about the aliens, which "Battle" does. It has a good premise: a worldwide war that focuses on one battle so that it doesn't knock itself, or the viewers, out trying to cover the entire invasion of Earth. It focuses on the marines and their efforts to evacuate civilians from the combat zone while only occasionally touching on the aliens and their technology/motives so as not to … um … alienate the general audience.

It's also bad, because, while working in the obvious tropes about alien invasion, such as the superior technology, extraterrestrial biology, and overwhelming military force, it also works in quite a few war movie tropes at the same time. There's Aaron Eckhart's ("The Dark Knight", "Paycheck") character, Staff Sergeant Nantz, who's retiring from the Marines the very morning of the invasion. Ramon Rodriguez ("Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen") plays the young lieutenant fresh out of officer training who, despite outranking the older sergeant, still needs Nantz's guidance in leading the men (oh, and his wife's pregnant). There's even Noel Fisher, who's starring in the upcoming "Twilight: Breaking Dawn", playing a very young private who is constantly freaked out by everything that happens.

It's not that they play these roles poorly; it's just that this movie doesn't really have anything new to offer. It's refreshing to see an alien movie that doesn't exploit an incredibly lame weakness (minor spoiler: they do need to exploit a weakness); but every trope, from both types of movie, teeters on the edge of being a cliché. And there are only so many clichés you can take in one movie, especially a "serious" one.

I liked the movie; didn't love it, but I liked it. Aaron Eckhart almost never disappoints, and he did a good job in this movie. The interspersed moments of exposition, such as "experts" on TV discussing the aliens' actions, weren't the best, but they did make it a bit more believable. And there were some genuinely touching moments with the civilians they were sent to rescue. In the end, it goes for the trope, not the cliché, and it generally hits the mark.

(Originally appeared at http://fourthdayuniverse.com/reports)

4 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
An Imperfect Plan, 4 March 2011
6/10

We make choices every day, and these choices can lead us down any number of paths. It's a plot device that's been used so many times, in so many different ways, that I don't think I even need to describe it any further. In the new sci-fi thriller "The Adjustment Bureau", starring Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, and Anthony Mackie, though, a twist is added.

Based on a short story by sci-fi literary giant Philip K. Dick, Damon discovers one day that his choices in life are being made for him. A group of shadowy agents are working behind the scenes, literally, changing the course of humanity in subtle but profound ways. In Damon's case, they want to make him a success in life, specifically in politics; and they've been working a long time to make him a success. But Damon himself is thwarting their efforts, unknowingly at first, but soon deliberately.

It seems, to the Adjustment Bureau and its unseen Chairman, that humanity is not ready to choose its own destiny, protect its own future (or, indeed, its own survival). It's not made clear in the movie just how much influence they have over humanity, but in Damon's case, it is enormous. When he discovers their efforts, he has no idea what to make of it; but when they try to separate him from the woman he loves, played by Emily Blunt, he's determined not to let them succeed.

The movie has been described as a cross between "Inception" and the Jason Bourne series; unfortunately, it isn't much of either. Its action sequences are not that exciting, despite several chase scenes through New York City, and frankly, neither is the chemistry between Damon and Blunt. At various points, the agents of the Bureau attempt to reason with Damon, giving him hints of the great plans in store for both him and Blunt which would require they never end up together. It's a potentially compelling conundrum, trading two people's happiness and love with each other for the chance to do great, important works in the future; but Damon can't quite convincingly portray the internal conflict.

As for the underlying question of whether any of us can choose anything for ourselves, the focus on Damon and what he will choose completely ignores all the characters, on screen or otherwise, who didn't even know their choices were taken from them. Thus, any ray of hope the movie offers us is a cynical one, at best. The mysterious Chairman's "plan" for humanity, as is constantly hinted, is neither infallible nor complete, and may even be subject to change with no warning. You could leave the theater wondering why they bother to change anything at all.

It's an interesting movie, to be sure, and the premise, as I said, is a timeless one: can we choose for ourselves, whether we know the possible outcomes or not? Frankly, the movie doesn't even fully address that question. It waivers too long between trying to be a psychological thriller or an action movie that it ends up being neither.

(Originally appeared at http://fourthdayuniverse.com/reports/2011/03/an-imperfect-plan/ )

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Want to see something cool?, 21 January 2011
7/10

"The Green Hornet", starring American comedic sensation Seth Rogen and Chinese pop sensation Jay Chou, hit theaters this last week. While the rage with superhero movies these days seems to be "gritty realism", "Hornet", like Rogen's character Britt Reid, seems to revel in the opportunity to just have fun.

From a script written by Rogen based on one of the oldest superheroes in American history, "Hornet" is about a playboy, Reid, whose party-all-the-time lifestyle constantly angers and disappoints his newspaper magnate father. When his father dies, leaving control of the family business in his son's hands, Reid realizes just how much he's wasted his life.

A friendship soon forms between Reid and Kato, the Chinese "Swiss Army Knife" who worked on his father's cars, knows martial arts, draws, plays piano, and basically does every other cool thing that Reid loves. When the two inadvertently save two people from muggers one night, Reid gets the idea for them to fight crime like his father did (though in a much more awesome way). Using the newspaper to stir publicity for the crimefighting duo, whose angle is they masquerade as villains to get closer to the real villains, Reid finally begins to feel he's helping people.

However, Reid quickly begins to go overboard as everyone around him, from Kato to his father's employees at the paper to his new secretary Lenore Case, played by Cameron Diaz, tries to rein him in. With all the neat gadgets Kato invents for their car, the Black Beauty, and with all the publicity he creates for his alter ego, though, Reid begins to be more and more reckless. It's clear from the start he has no real plan for how to fight crime, or just what he faces in the criminal underworld of Los Angeles, or what the consequences of his various actions may be.

The big crime boss of LA is Chudnofsky, and, as ruthless as his character is, even he goes for the laugh and gets it in this film (albeit a somewhat darker laugh than the ones Reid and Kato get). Played by Christoph Waltz, Chudnofsky controls literally all the crime in LA, but he can't quite seem to command automatic respect or fear the way some criminals do. He spends the whole movie trying to overhaul his personae to be more intimidating and even more charismatic; while, of course, trying to kill the Green Hornet, whose persona as a criminal who operates without Chudnofsky's approval inspires the other mobs to do the same. Waltz does a good job of balancing goofy gangster with merciless killer.

All in all, "The Green Hornet" is a fun movie to see, and that's all it tries to be. If you're looking for "The Dark Green Hornet Knight", you won't find it; likewise if you're looking for "CSI: Green Hornet". But if you "want to see something cool", then this is your movie.

(Originally appeared at http://fourthdayuniverse.com/reports/ )

65 out of 117 people found the following review useful:
Season of the Witch: Spellbinding, 7 January 2011
7/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Season of the Witch" is a genuinely suspenseful and thrilling start to the 2011 movie year. With a cast comprised of screen veterans and relative newcomers, this period piece about witchcraft and true nobility will keep you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end. After a gripping prologue which establishes that witches do, in fact, exist and can be quite deadly, the movie dives straight into the heart of the Crusades in the mid-14th Century, the stage for some of the bloodiest and most brutal battles in history; and also some of the greatest abuses of authority by the Christian church. Two knights, Behmen and Felson, played by Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman, enter the wars eager to fight at each other's side. However, as the horrors of war set in, the two become convinced that it would be better to desert and risk execution than continue the savage pursuit. It's a bit of a clich, but director Dominic Sena handles it very well. The pair are eventually captured and brought to justice. However, the town in which they are arrested lies in the middle of a plague-stricken region. Even the local Cardinal, played by Christopher Lee, has fallen ill. He promises the knights they will be pardoned if they agree to help lift the curse he believes is the cause of the plague: a young woman accused of witchcraft must be taken to a monastery where certain rites must be performed that would end the curse. The girl, of course, would be executed. The errant knights have no desire to aid the church that has been the cause of so much suffering, but Behmen believes the girl's chances of a fair trial are much higher if they travel with her. It is not long before the small band of travelers encounters trouble, though, and even Behmen cannot ignore the likelihood that the girl is behind it all. As the young priest who accompanies them warns him, the girl will try to sow doubt and dissension in the minds of whomever comes close enough to hear her speak. Soon, it becomes clear that even traveling with her places each of their lives in danger. "Season" hovers on the edge of clicheness fairly often. There are a few moments that could have gone either way, including the "buddy" dynamic between Behmen and Felson and the inclusion of Kay, the young altar boy who accompanies them hoping to become a knight like his father was. These moments, however, lend a much-needed lightheartedness to a movie that keeps your heart pounding almost nonstop, and the caliber of the acting and directing keep it from going over the edge. The balance of seasoned and up-and-coming actors also works well in "Season". Claire Foy, in particular, is a delight to watch as she runs the gamut of roles from simple peasant and hapless victim to shrewd manipulator and evil menace. Cage and Perlman seem a touch out of place at times in medieval Europe, but as friends willing to fight together even in the face of Hell, they fit perfectly. It's not the standard winter movie fare, perhaps, but it's definitely spellbinding. )

0 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
TRON: Reloaded, 17 December 2010
6/10

The story of "TRON" is that of a man who enters a computer world inhabited by sentient "programs" who are given the choice of either serving the purposes of the megalomaniacal program spreading throughout the system, or fighting to their eventual destruction in the "Games". In the first movie, Kevin Flynn, played by Jeff Bridges, must shut down the Master Control Program (MCP) with the help of the eponymous TRON security program. In the sequel, Kevin's son Sam must not only rescue him from the computer world in which he has become trapped, but also defeat CLU, a program Kevin had designed. Though the plots seem similar, there's little of the spirit of the first movie in the second. The MCP was essentially a conquerer, abducting ("appropriating") other programs, merging his own program with those he felt would be most useful to him and eliminating the others. CLU, on the other hand, seems to be more of a spoiled prince, pitting programs against each other seemingly for nothing more than his own amusement.

Flynn himself has become something of a "God among mortals" in the world of computers. Everyone knows who he is, and when he's around them, they know it. However, he can't do much against CLU, as a direct confrontation between them could mean the end of both. Sequestering himself to avoid that outcome, Flynn can only wait for something to change. He has a long wait, indeed, since time in the Grid moves much more slowly than in our world.

CLU is a bit more proactive, though. When Sam, played by Garret Hedlund, finds his way onto the Grid, CLU makes him compete in the Games. The move is meant to draw out Flynn, and it does; sort of. Quorra, an apprentice of Flynn's played by Olivia Wilde, rescues Sam and takes him to see his father. The reunion is a genuinely touching scene, but it doesn't last long as Flynn quickly informs his son that leaving the world of computers isn't nearly as easy as entering it (which is certainly saying something, considering how difficult entering is). Flynn's reluctance to directly face his creation makes things even more difficult, and Sam is forced to take matters into his own hands with … let's just say "mixed results".

It's not a bad movie, really. Unfortunately, it suffers from being a sequel. Like the "Alien", "Terminator", "Matrix", and many, many other movie franchises, it capitalizes on the perceived strengths of the first movie instead of the actual ones. I'm not talking about special effects, by the way. After all, who could resist the chance to update the 1982 special effects to the 21st century? The Games are updated, as well, and the action teamed with the special effects and the soundtrack make for several thrilling scenes. If all that director Joseph Kosinski wanted was to make the Games more enjoyable, then he succeeded.

But the special effects were never the point of the first movie, anymore than they were the point of "The Matrix" or "Clash of the Titans". The plot of the first TRON was to halt the spread of a malignant program that either absorbed or destroyed anything it encountered. It was almost biblical in the way that programs kept yearning for the "Users" to reassert authority, and how Flynn, an actual User, entered their world, freeing them from the slavery of the MCP to fulfill their true purposes. Whatever metaphor you may use, the first movie didn't move beyond the realm of metaphor. In the end, programs were programs, and they sought for nothing more. In Legacy, however, there's little to distinguish between humans and programs. The movie even makes the outright assertion that programs are their own lifeforms. Again, it's not a bad premise, and I could have accepted it if this weren't supposed to continue the mythology of the first movie.

Beyond the disconnect between the two TRON movies, there are a few things about Legacy that just don't quite work. First is the characters and their chemistry. Quorra isn't meant to be a love interest for Sam (at least, I don't think she is), but rather, she is fascinated by both him and his father, and wants to learn as much from both of them about our world as possible. Her earnestness doesn't mix that well with the father-son dynamic. Oddly enough, I have the feeling that any two of the heroes could have built a good on screen chemistry if not for the presence of the third.

Legacy incorporates many elements from other sci-fi favorites. That's not surprising or even a problem; after all, very few stories are one hundred percent "original". In some cases, though, Legacy seems to borrow entire scenes from other movies. You'll recognize plenty of action sequences, special effects, plot threads, and even a line of dialogue or two from any number of sci-fi/fantasy franchises. During one scene, I half-expected to hear Flynn tell his son "Great, kid; don't get cocky!" And, of course, there are several nods throughout to the original film, most handled fairly well by the director and actors, but a couple that warranted at least a facepalm. These are separate from the exposition, of course, which is necessary given the time span between the two movies.

I think anyone who sees this movie without seeing the original first will enjoy it; even devout fans of the original, such as myself, will catch themselves grinning during some scenes and gripping the armrests in others. Still, I would have enjoyed it much more if it had been developed independent of the first movie. It may go on to be more successful, more popular, and more acclaimed than the first, but it's not a true sequel.

(Originally appeared at http://fourthdayuniverse.com/reports/2010/12/tron-reloaded/ )

22 out of 40 people found the following review useful:
Voyage of the Dawn Treader, 11 December 2010
8/10

This weekend, it was a rare treat for me to watch and review "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader". The Chronicles of Narnia have always been a favorite of mine. It's a series comparable to all the great fantasy epics, both in classic and modern times, and "Voyage of the Dawn Treader" is my favorite chapter in the saga.

A brief history, for those who aren't familiar with the series. Narnia is a mystical kingdom in a magical world that can only be reached when it is of the greatest need. It is watched over by Aslan the Lion, who comes and goes as he pleases but always chooses champions who can protect Narnia in the face of evil. In the first movie, two brothers and two sisters from our world are brought to Narnia to overthrow a terrifying Witch-Queen. In the second, they help a young prince named Caspian ascend to the throne that his uncle had usurped. While only adolescents in our world, in Narnia these four young men and women had become great heroes, kings and queens of legend.

In this movie, the youngest two, Edmund and Lucy, travel to Narnia to find there is (apparently) no great need for their help. No wars are currently being fought, and King Caspian is now sailing on his ship, the Dawn Treader, to find seven Lords of Narnia whom his uncle had banished years earlier. Accompanying Edmund and Lucy, unwilling, is their cousin Eustace Scrubb, a thoroughly unpleasant boy who had never even read books about magical lands, let alone believed in them. His only delight in life seemed to be annoying others. Naturally, his attitude won him little friendship or sympathy when he found himself dragged along on a magical voyage in a land he'd teased his cousins for "inventing".

The ship's company sails to the east, following the last known course of the seven Lords. Along their way, they battle slave traders, encounter an island full of invisible creatures and buildings, and deal with all sorts of fantastical creatures and enchantments. They find themselves tempted by their greatest desires and threatened by their worst fears, even as they strive to discover the fate of the missing Lords.

The most valiant of the sailors is the brave Sir Reepicheep, a Mouse granted the gift of speech (and a new tail when his old was lost) by Aslan himself. Never one to back away from a fight, Reepicheep has a different motivation for embarking on this journey. As a young Mouse, he was told that he would some day travel to Aslan's Country in person. Delighted to see King Edmund and Queen Lucy once more, he finds it particularly difficult to tolerate Eustace. Reepicheep comments that, if Eustace hadn't been related to them by blood, he might have drawn his sword on the lad more than once (and from a Mouse who has faced dragons, it is no idle threat). Eventually, though, as Eustace is forced to face the reality of life in this strange and dangerous world, the noble Mouse becomes something of a guide to him, and even, oddly enough, a comfort from time to time.

There's certainly enough adventure and danger to create an epic, and the emotional and personal trials that each character faces make for interesting moral and dramatic scenes. However, the main difference between the book and the movie is the nature of the voyage on which the crew of the Dawn Treader embarks. In the movie, more than simply finding the lost Lords, the crew is told by a magician that they must bring the swords of each Lord to Aslan's Table and lay them upon it. Doing so would mean the end to a terrible curse that plagues the isles of the east and threatens to spread to the shores of Narnia in time.

Finding the seven swords grounds the movie more firmly in the epic fantasy genre, but it hardly seems necessary. Adding this element to the quest actually changed the dynamic of it. Certainly, it sharpened the focus of the dangers they faced, making the encounters with spirits and sea serpents seem less random; but it also called for changing the order of certain events, such as the order in which they visited the various islands. Also, it takes the focus off the characters themselves, even as the movie tries to bring their personal battles to the forefront, at times.

These aren't major departures from the book. The same issues are addressed, and the storyline is very similar. In the end, not much was changed, especially not the messages delivered by the Great Lion. That's the important part. The books, written over half a century ago, endure in large part because of the author, C.S. Lewis, and the lessons he hoped to teach through his characters. Like the fables of old, The Chronicles of Narnia have their share of talking animals, but that's just window dressing. What's important is what you can learn from the story itself.

(Originally appeared at http://fourthdayuniverse.com/reports/ )


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