Joseph Kosinski’s Tron: Legacy () is a belated if not eagerly awaited sequel to the 1982 hit. There have been a number of technical developments in the intervening years, but none of them does the new film any good. The 3D format yields pitifully little in terms of eye-popping excitement, while CGI is put to the singularly absurd end of creating a younger version of one of the film’s stars, Jeff Bridges. The CGI Bridges has a superficial resemblance to the original but fails to capture its essence, like a paint-by-numbers version of a Rembrandt.
Luckily, the flesh-and-blood, sixtysomething Bridges is also on show, bringing his customary spaced-out warmth to lines such as “you’re messing with my Zen thing, man”. Bridges shows a disappointing earnestness, resembling at times a counter-culture Obi-Wan Kenobi. He plays Kevin Flynn, the inventor of the blockbuster computer game Tron. A mixture of philosopher, scientist, businessman and mystic, Flynn set out his vision of a “digital frontier to reshape the human condition” before disappearing off the face of the earth. Twenty years later, Flynn’s desperately bland son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) goes in search of him. Sam had presumed that his dad was “dead or chilling in Costa Rica or both”, but it emerges, all too gradually, that he became stranded inside Tron after one of his creations, CLU (the younger Bridges), turned against him.
Meanwhile, we’re liable to be baffled and bored by the rules of The Grid, the film’s main setting, and all the talk of “programs”, “users” and “the purge” – this last piece of terminology an unfortunate case of fantasy trying to steal gravitas from history. The battle scenes are enjoyable but over all too quickly, forced to make way for yet more IT chatter. Daft Punk’s electronic soundtrack is too vibrant for the film it accompanies. Michael Sheen pops up as a dandy nightclub owner who dresses in white, twirls a cane and goes by the name Zeus. He’s the only one with enough sense to be silly.
The dangers of modern technology are far more thrillingly portrayed in Catfish
(), a documentary directed by Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost. The film follows Schulman’s younger brother, Nev, a photographer specialising in dance. One day he receives a package containing a painting of one of his photographs. The painting is offered as the work of Abby, an eight-year-old girl from Michigan. Nev strikes up a Facebook relationship with Abby and starts to talk on the phone with Abby’s mother Alison and her 19-year-old daughter Megan. It helps that Megan’s Facebook photos are smoking hot.
Having started out following Nev’s e-friendship with Abbie, Schulman and Joost found themselves with a Godsend of a strange-but-true story. Where this story goes, how things developed between Nev and Megan cannot be revealed, but suffice it to say there was an element of deception somewhere along the line. The film reveals that the internet not only facilitates deception but also offers innumerable possibilities for detection too: if you’re going to lie, you’d better cover your tracks. But just as you think you’re heading towards thriller territory, with street-smart New Yorkers confronting Midwestern loons, the film mutates into a study of benevolence, understanding and forgiveness.
The ludicrous, diverting Burlesque () gets off to a flying start. Ali (Christina Aguilera, pictured) confronts her no-good boss, steals the money he owes her, sings her heart out, leaves Iowa for LA, and finds the club of her dreams, the Burlesque Lounge run by Tess (Cher) – all within the first five minutes. The rest of the film is as protracted as vowel sounds sung by Aguilera.
Writer-director Steve Antin insists on following every rule of the making-it-against-the-odds drama. We are invited to root for Ali as she demands Tess give her a chance at the Burlesque Lounge. “I know I can do this … I won’t let you down … You won’t regret it”: surprise, surprise, Ali can do it, she doesn’t let Tess down and Tess doesn’t regret it.
The ailing burlesque house is pitched against soulless skyscraper commerce. Ali’s primary love interest, the bartender who really wants to be a pianist and songwriter, is pitched against a wealthy property developer who buys her shoes. The song-and-dance numbers would really be more at home in a film called Pop, but as the film sees it, Ali ends up with perfection both in her life and her work. No sacrifices required. There’s even a financial deus ex-machina. So everything works out very well – except for the audience, which is lumbered with all the embarrassment the film refuses to feel.
The less said about Loose Cannons (), the better. That formulation is usually shorthand for “Don’t see this”, but here it is intended as a sort of compliment. This Italian coming-out comedy has a neat central narrative gimmick. Unfortunately, it hasn’t got a lot else. The central relationship is between the gay younger son of a spaghetti magnate and his new female colleague at the factory. The supporting characters are all one-trait – the drunk aunt, the wise grandmother. Ferzan Özpetek’s film is amiable and eventful, excessively reliant on stereotypes and irony, unlikely to attract lovers or haters.
In Jean Renoir’s Boudu Saved From Drowning () – first released in 1932 and remade as Down and Out in Beverly Hills – a tramp, rescued from the Seine by a bookseller, has a holiday in society. He doesn’t adjust well. Given the choice, Boudu prefers the taste of lard to that of butter; he finds the floor more comfortable than a bed; he cannot see the point of wearing a tie.
The bookseller wants to civilise Boudu. Instead, Boudu exposes the bookseller’s hypocrisy while attracting the attentions of his wife and mistress. There is an ingenious performance from Michel Simon as the libidinous tramp and many entertaining comic touches. But in its tragicomic portrait of class friction and heartbreak among hypocrites, this very slight film, on a limited re-release, looks like a testing ground for Renoir’s 1939 masterpiece, La Règle Du Jeu.
Nigel Andrews is away