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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, 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.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

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

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


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

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.