Thoughts on Tron

Hey guys, my friend Patrick wrote a philosophical piece on the Tron films. He has some great insight! Check it out here.


Directed by Vincente Amorim 
Written by C.P. Taylor and John Wrathall
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Jason Isaacs, Jodie Whittaker

“The safest road to hell is the gradual one - the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” -C.S. Lewis 
Life is a sum of all your choices. -Albert Camus 
The scene is Germany in the 1930s.  John Halder (Viggo Mortensen) is a professor who has written a supposedly fictitious book supporting compassionate euthanasia. Thus far, he has discreetly avoided joining the National Socialist party. He quietly sighs when books are burned outside his classroom window, but does nothing to openly defy Nazism. Trouble comes in when Der Fehurer himself reads John’s novel. Hitler loves it. John is promised significant funds to continue his work, with only one catch: he must join the party. It is a polite command. 

Initially, the film promises to deal more with the subject of euthanasia. With brilliant subtly, euthanasia becomes a metaphor for Nazi ideology. Good becomes the story of one man’s slow downward descent into spiritual death. 
When he begins working for Hitler,  John witnesses the humanizing of euthanasia brought on partly by the success of his book. A commercial is shot where a young man gives a suicide pill to a beautiful young women in a silk nightgown, saying “this will help you sleep.” She breathes her last “I love you” and falls tenderly on his shoulder. Thus death (murder perhaps, the film doesn’t give a clear verdict) is glamorous, much like the Nazi propaganda that used euphemisms like “resettlement” and “camp.” 
In the end its all about conscience. There is always the indication that John Halder knows the difference between right and wrong.  At intervals throughout the movie, John imagines he hears music playing. We are left to wonder what this could mean.  In the beginning of the film, John says that music equals faith. In the end, the music was real. All along it pointed to a climatic crescendo, perhaps symbolizing goodness or moral universalism. Before realizing it is real, John hears the music three times: 1) when he first meets the women he would later leave his wife for, 2) when his euthanasia work is being praised, and 3) when he witnesses his own colleagues forcing Jewish Germans off to concentration camps. Perhaps the music symbolizes his conscience, because in the end, John realizes that true goodness does exist, and it is in the very heart of what he was helping to exterminate. 

The music could also represent John's moral reality. The movie takes place in the time span when John is tangibly caught between the dark side and the good side. The music signifies this unbalance. When John is at the "good" equilibrium, there is nothing out of place to trigger his conscience (i.e. what allows him to hear the music). But in the struggle to serve both good and evil, all of John's moral senses are unrooted. It is like jumping from a plane: there was sensory equilibrium in the plane and there will be equilibrium on the ground. The violent rush of wind that occurs while falling is like the conscientious war that precedes a moral choice. 

Throughout his life, little by little, John falls farther away from what is good.  Gradually, “right” or “good” becomes relative. It started with a simple paper. “Just join the party," they said. A second glance at his beautiful student named Alice (Jodie Whittaker) evolves into an affair. In time John is not just meeting with the Nazis over a beer, he is wearing their uniforms. 
At first it seems as though John can serve two masters. Although he joined the National Socialist party, he did not abandon his Jewish friend (a brilliantly sardonic Jason Isaacs). He writes a book on compassionate euthanasia and yet will not give into his sick mother’s pleas to end her misery. There comes a point though, when he has sold himself completely to one side. This happened not in a definitive moment, but through the succession of many small choices. 

Jason Isaacs (The Patriot, Harry Potter) adds strength and defiance to the convincing and realistic cast. Mortensen (The Lord of the Rings, The Road) makes the movie chilling: we feel that we could be in his place, weeping in astonishment at what we have done. He is gentle, kind, and caring. All his virtues remind us that no one is safe from making bad choices, and no amount of goodness can shield the evil that resides in every human’s heart. 

Thanks Dad for the help on this one. 

Age of Enchantment: the End of Harry Potter

As Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 swept the big screens on Friday, we learned once again that good triumphs over evil. When John Williams’ familiar soundtrack hailed the end credits, the film’s audience witnessed the conclusion of an era. If the final film leaves fans at all disappointed, it is because there was so much to live up to. 

“He'll be famous - a legend - I wouldn't be surprised if today was known as Harry Potter day in future - there will be books written about Harry - every child in our world will know his name!" (Professor McGonagall, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) 
Harry hit U.S. bookstores in 1998
Shortly after the wild-haired little boy entered bookstores in 1997, he became a household name and went on to title one of the biggest franchises in entertainment history. There is no argument that author J.K. Rowling created an international phenomenon. The past thirteen years are being called the Era of Harry Potter. What does this mean then, for those who lived through the Potter Age? If I might borrow a phrase, it was the best of times and it was the worst of times. 
It was an age of enchantment. Rowling’s universe is not a wholly separate world like Middle-earth or Narnia. Instead, wizards, witches, goblins, house elves, and hippogriffs live undercover in secret pockets of the modern world. Protective spells cloak anything that might startle Muggles (those who lack magical abilities). Even with our ordinary world as the backdrop in the stories, Rowling creates an atmosphere of wonder that beckons readers into flickering candlelit halls and strange forests.  The school bullies and the drabness of homework are equally vivid. By marrying the everyday with the magical,  Rowling seems to admonish that real adventures happen outside the imagination, and real beauty and real danger are everywhere around us. 
Rowling’s creativity and literary prowess are enough to charm her readers. But while sales in round-rimmed glasses may be booming, but there are deeper truths under the wizard garb of Potter fandom. More important than their lessons in Herbology and Defense Against the Dark Arts are the lessons Harry and friends learn about friendship, sacrificial love, and virtue. These lessons are put to the test as the protagonists choose to defend what is good, even to the point of death. As the plot thickens and more complex themes unfold, characters and readers alike realize what it is they’re holding on to. 

2010 Quiddich World Cup in NYC
Further proving that the Boy Wizard’s influence can’t be contained on the printed page, the International Quidditch Association was established in 2007. The Rowling-created sport involving broomsticks and the ever-cunning gold Snitch has been adapted for Muggle athletes and can be played on college campuses across the globe. The fifth Quidditch World Cup is scheduled for November 12-13 in New York City. 

With a little magic,
Radcliffe is now the 5th
richest person under 30

The Harry Era was also an age of rising to fortune. As orphaned, mistreated Harry became the most famous and most hunted wizard in the magical world, J.K. Rowling ditched her welfare status for a net worth of $1 billion. Likewise, Daniel Radcliffe is now richer than Prince William due to his successful onscreen portrayal of the Boy Who Lived.  DH Part 2 boasted the highest-grossing opening day in box office lore, bringing in $92.1 million on July 15. The Gringotts Goblins would be proud. 

The success of the franchise has also cast an age of contention. Christians especially are wary of Harry and his fellow students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Fear rose that the books promoted the use of sorcery. Christian leaders and parents continue to debate whether it is safe for kids to go around shouting “Expecto Patronum,” but that’s another saga. 
For those fans who literally grew up with Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, Neville Longbottom, Draco Malfoy, and Harry Potter,  Deathly Hallows Part 2 marks the end of childhood. Gone is the age of camping out in bookstores draped in Gryffindor scarves. There will be no more predicting of future plots or anticipating midnight showings with wands at the ready. It is the end of a journey, but the best parts can still be enjoyed for generations.  

True Grit

Written/Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Hailee Steinfeld 

The Coen Brothers like to redeem the most unlikely people. Their characters are always believable, but seldom people you would want to be. The main characters of  O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Raising Arizona are both ex-convicts. In keeping, True Grit’s Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) is a one-eyed U.S. Marshall with a less than savory past. His life of bizarre showdowns and drunkenness is interrupted by a 14-year old girl on a mission. Maddie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) wants picture-perfect revenge for her father’s killer, and she wants Rooster to help her see it done. 
Ethan and Joel Coen direct
When the movie first begins, it feels too slow and rambling. There is little to like in the gruff, carelessly violent Rooster, or the rather aloof Texas Ranger LeBeouf (Matt Damon). Even Maddie could seem like an annoying little girl who doesn’t know her place. But as the roads get tougher and the dangers nearer, all three characters emerge with an increasingly endearing display of grit that is not unlike the gradual and halting evolution of their own relationships. 

True Grit received ten Oscar nominations, including Best Director and Best Picture, yet the movie is anything but showy. Joel and Ethan Coen convey a sense of dusty sparseness that is both realistic and alien. They almost deglamorize the wild west. Everything about the movie flees sentimentality and emotion.  The only sense of intimacy we feel with the characters is during the moments of humor that flawlessly dot the script. All of this, including the formal speech (it is instead of it’s) used in the script seems to separate us from the characters, as if we are supposed to focus on something else.

What is beautiful about the film is that the central theme of revenge morphs inconspicuously into something like salvation. In saving Maddie’s life, we get the feeling that Rooster is trying to atone for his failures. The directors aptly capture the realism of such a story in the lack of a triumphant victory. There is nothing about the revenge in the end, it is about the friends made on the journey.  The film does not build into a neatly packaged climax or conclude with all the loose ends tied. The ending is abrupt and pragmatic, as if Maddie herself had written it; for as she says, “time just gets away from us.” So it does, and maybe the Coen Brothers are doing their best to focus on the things that are really worth the time we have.  

Super 8

Written/Directed by J.J. Abrams
Produced by Steven Spielberg
Cast: Joel Courtney, Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning,Joel McKinnon Miller, Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee,

Two kids who have lost their mothers. Two dads who are more or less distant. Several creepy happenings in a small town. A military conspiracy. A couple kids with a video camera. One very bad alien. 
Structurally, There is nothing super creative about Super 8. Think of it as E.T. but scarier. And yet, we get the feeling that this is exactly what the filmmakers wanted. J.J. Abrams (Star Trek, Lost, MI:3 ) and Steven Spielberg take an obvious premise, along with themes that have been used and abused to the point of being corny, and they make a great movie. A lack of plot originality doesn’t keep Abrams and Spielberg from shining. Creativity comes into play with hilarious dialogue and masterful use of the camera. 
Writer/Director J.J. Abrams on the set
The young troupe of child actors who portray Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) and his friends (Elle Fanning, Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee) carry the film with flawless talent.  This throwback tribute to the best sci-fi movies of the past debunks the myth that a good film needs a twist in the plot or an overly complex character. Good movies just need good movie makers, and we’ve found them. 

Super 8 is a fun summer movie that can be praised and enjoyed because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. 


“And though we have fallen into mans myths and legends, it was Asgard and its warriors that brought peace to the universe.”

Kingdom of Asgard
Nominated for four Academy Awards (two for directing, one for writing, and one for acting) Kenneth Branagh (director: Henry V, Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing; actor: Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and Valkyrie to name a few) has been called the “Lawrence Olivier of his generation” for his work transcribing some of Shakespeare’s most famous plays to the screen. 

Maybe it’s all those years reading great literature that allows Branagh to succeed in a genre where directors with access to equally stunning visual affects and well-known actors (think Clash of the Titans) could not. 
Branagh on the set for Thor
In his latest film, Branagh takes a respite from the oft-quoted works of the Bard and reaches for something more ancient: Norse mythology. He succeeds and gives us a fantastical action film just as we like it. 
But don’t get out your Poetic Edda just yet, Thor isn’t just Norse mythology. The god of thunder is now one of Marvel Studios’ Avengers, predicted to pal up with Iron Man, The Hulk, Captain America and other butt-kicking buddies. 
Thor and his brother Loki...or so we thought
No need to expound on the plot, just know that there are the usual elements: favored son, jealous son, attractive astrophysicist, evil neighboring kingdom of frost-giants, and of course, the interfering government agents who want to hide all evidence of the supernatural. Now throw in a magic hammer (don’t worry it bounces back like a very heavy boomerang) named Mjölnir and you get something above the average multi-million dollar my-powers-are-better-than-your-powers” showdown. It turn’s out that Thor has some depth. Themes and characters that might have otherwise felt stale and even comical are executed with style and competence. This is one summer movie that will have you shouting, in the words of the coffee-mug-smashing son of Odin “I like it. Another!” 
NY Times reviewer A.O. Scott complained about the number of cliches in the film, calling it "axiomatically bad"(read the suicide-threatening bashing here).  Yes, yes, there is nothing outrageously original about Marvel’s rendition of a pre-13th century Norse myth (not to mention that Asgard does somewhat resemble a golden Emerald City). But then again, we aren’t looking for non-cliches in a movie such as Thor. Myths and fairy tales are up to their wizard beards in cliches. That's not an excuse to slack when it comes to making a movie, but rather an invitation to make the genre shine to its epic fullest. And by the gods, Branagh pulls it off with a bang. 
Anthony Hopkins as Odin
Branagh’s deities are as anthropomorphically god-like as Homer and Co. would have us imagine. Chris Hemsworth (last seen as James Kirk’s father in Star Trek...don’t worry, gods can do that) balances his character perfectly. Thor is charming and funny enough for us to believe Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) could fall for him, but still dignified and threatening enough to be future king of Asgard. 
"I've loved you since you first fell from the sky..."
The ability to restrain their powers allows for good gods and bad gods. Thus, in the mythological tradition, the divine realm mirrors our own, except that they can blast themselves between galaxies at will. When you think about it, maybe even this isn’t so far from the innovations of humanity. Thor says that magic is only an ancient name for  science. Perhaps the reason the powers of the gods mirror our scientific triumphs is that they themselves are our inventions, and the reflections of our dreams. Thor concludes with a human searching the heavens for something she desires, some trace of the supernatural, some spark of magic: just another thing Branagh gets right. 


Directed by Lasse Hallstrom
Written by Robert Nelson Jacobs 
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, Alfred Molina, Lena Olin, Johnny Depp 

"Once upon a time, there was a quiet little village in the French countryside, whose people believed in Tranquilité - Tranquility. If you lived in this village, you understood what was expected of you. You knew your place in the scheme of things. And if you happened to forget, someone would help remind you. In this village, if you saw something you weren't supposed to see, you learned to look the other way. If perchance your hopes had been disappointed, you learned never to ask for more. So through good times and bad, famine and feast, the villagers held fast to their traditions. Until, one winter day, a sly wind blew in from the North..." 

Chocolat is finely crafted depiction of the tension between love and law, judgement and forgiveness, righteous restraint and living a life worth remembering. 
Vienne Rocher (Juliette Binoche) moves with the wind. When she arrives in the conventional town of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes with her daughter Anouk (Victoire Thivisol), she must choose between following convention or dishing out the windblown medicine she knows best: rich, unrefined Mayan chocolate. 
When she opens her cheery chocolaterie at the beginning of Lent, the mayor (Alfred Molina) jumps at the opportunity to preach against indulgence. Sunday sermons are filled with admonition against the unholiness of chocolate. Still, Vienne’s shop stays busy and it soon becomes apparent that she is doing more than selling truffles. With her daring red shoes and defiance toward gossip, Vienne heals relationships and comforts the hurting. 
She has the inspiring ability to not only guess people’s favorite chocolate, but to see their beauty and potential. 
The river brings a fleet of nomadic gypsies to the sleepy shores of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes. When the townspeople refuse the “river rats” hospitality, Vienne and Anouk greet them with handfuls of chocolate candy. Chief river rat Roux (Johnny Depp) befriends Vienne and together, with mischievous smiles, they bring the town just what it needed: life, laughter and chocolat
The book of the same name is equally delightful. Author Joanne Harris offers a pantheon of insight into human flaws and virtues, like some magic Mayan recipe for wisdom. Her writing is fresh, vivid and relevant, and her descriptions of Vienne’s chocolaterie will have your mouth watering for an espresso au chocolat avec chantilly.