DID YOU READ

The Legacy of “Tron” and the Sound on Sight Podcast

The Legacy of “Tron” and the Sound on Sight Podcast (photo)

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Last night, I was invited to join the Sound on Sight podcast for their review of “Tron: Legacy.” I encourage you to click over to listen to the full half hour review; it was a good discussion and I got to express a lot of my thoughts about the movie: briefly, that it is a stunningly good-looking film with a nonsensical plot, bad dialogue and a severe shortage of charisma in the lead role (star Garrett Hedlund is essentially a poor man’s Chris Pine). What I didn’t get to talk about enough were my thoughts on “Tron: Legacy”‘s place in contemporary film culture and film history; to examine the true legacy of “Tron,” if you will.

The original “Tron,” made in 1982 by Steven Lisberger, was a true technological breakthrough. It used computer generated effects in ways no one had ever seen before. It invented this kinda dumb, kinda clever intracomputer world and turned it into a massive visual spectacle. The film didn’t really make much sense, but it looked really cool while it was not making much sense, and that was deemed enough to make it a cult film.

Though “Tron” was ultimately a box office disappointment, its model of filmmaking — special effects as a film’s first, or really only concern — has increasingly become the prevailing mode of most Hollywood blockbusters. We still see the occasional “Inception,” but the vast majority of tentpoles look like “Tron:” the latest special effects, the lamest story, character, and dialogue. More and more, they’re also based on video games or heavily inspired by them, as the original “Tron” was.

Director Joseph Kosinski updates the thirty year old aesthetic of “Tron” in a way that feels fresh and exciting. “The Grid,” the Oz-ish realm of anthropomorphic computer programs, looks better and more tangibly real than CGI in movies set in the real world, a perfect touch for a film about men who are so intoxicated by this alternate reality that they become consumed by it. And yet for all of Kosinski’s admirable work rebuilding the world of “Tron” — he’s no less the brilliant creator of this place than Jeff Bridges’ Kevin Flynn is — and for his seemingly preternatural skill directed the effect- and stunt-heavy action sequences, he is utterly clueless when it comes to scenes of dialogue and exposition. After a series of appetite-whetting set pieces where Hedlund’s Sam, son of Bridges’ Kevin, participates in a series of propulsively staged gladiatorial games, the movie’s momentum screeches to a halt like a light cycle slamming into an opponent’s exhaust. Sam finally locates his long lost father in The Grid and proceeds to spend an arduous thirty minutes reconnecting with him, learning about what he’s been up to, and bickering with him over how to escape from their digital trap. These scenes are flat, tensionless, and boring. Finally after what seems like forever, the pair and their vaguely explained hottie computer program partner (Olivia Wilde) make a break for reality and the film begins to thrum again to the beat of Daft Punk’s bouncy score.

Last week on IFC.com, I wrote a piece on the diminishing returns in special effects movies. As part of it, I discussed the recent trend towards special effects artists becoming directors of their own films. Kosinski is another guy with a similar background: according to his own website, “his work reflects his background in design and architecture.” It certainly does; “Tron: Legacy” revels in both — consider the way, for instance, the digital warriors’ motorcycles and airplanes form out of thin air as 3D architectural models that grow instantaneous detail and substances. Kosinski’s history making commercials for video games prepared him well for working in entirely digital worlds but not for working with actors. No wonder there are times where the CGI Bridges (a devious computer program named Clu) seems more invested in the narrative than the real one.

So while “Tron: Legacy” is far (and I mean far) from a perfect film, it is the perfect sequel to “Tron.” That also makes it the perfect summation of modern mainstream filmmaking: a digital creation — not to mention a sequel — that’s all spectacle and no heart. For additional thoughts on “Tron: Legacy,” go listen to our review on the Sound on Sight podcast.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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