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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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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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