“TRON” (1982) starring Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, David Warner, & Cindy Morgan

Hacker/arcade owner Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is digitally broken down into a data stream by a villainous software pirate, Master Control, and reconstituted into the internal, 3-D graphical world of computers. In this colorful/geometric landscape of cyberspace, Flynn joins forces w/ Tron, who looks just like his pal Alan (Bruce Boxleitner- perhaps best known for the sci-fi TV show Babylon 5), to outmaneuver the Master Control program that holds them captive in the equivalent of a big/dangerous computer game. Though V basic by our (modern) standards, this was an innovative/labor-intensive movie in its day! There is a BTS (behind-the-scenes) documentary re: the movie (free on YouTube: see link below).

Many Disney animators refused to work on this movie because they feared that computers would put them out of business. In fact, 22 years later Disney closed its hand-drawn animation studio in favor of CGI animation. Hand-drawn animation was resumed at Disney after creative director, John Lasseter, also head of Pixar (a computer animation company). TRON was disqualified from receiving an Academy Award nomination for special effects, because the Academy felt at the time that using computer generated effects was “cheating” – wow!

Y’all, I gotta keep it real w/ you; I ONLY watched this for Bridges! He’s adorable w/ a fringe haircut (like the one Kurt Russell had in his day), quirky physicality, and a nerdy personality. ALL the actors (when inside the computer) wore skintight outfits; IRL these were white w/ black markings (where the graphics would be added in later). Bridges had TOO much of a bulge in the crotch area in his costume (hey, this was released by Disney); he had to wear a dance belt to conceal it. To inspire the actors, arcade games were placed on the sets and played during downtime. Bridges found it hard to tear himself away from a game to shoot a scene- LOL! Boxleitner (who lived on a ranch at that time) said he was reluctant to take on this role, BUT ended up having a good time. When asked about his co-star, Boxleitner recalled: “He WAS Kevin Flynn!”

In the 1st act of this movie, we meet 3 young computer programmers- Kevin, Alan, and Lora (Cindy Morgan- I’d never seen her acting before). They’re still close friends, even though Kevin no longer works w/ them at Encom. Kevin and Lora used to be a couple, BUT now she is dating Alan. The main baddie roles are played here by British character actor David Warner; he recently passed away after a long life/prolific career. Warner was a working class kid (from Manchester, England) who came out of the theater world (studied at RADA). Trekkies remembered him fondly on social media; he acted in several notable roles: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (St. John Talbot), Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Chancellor Gorkon), and Star Trek: TNG (Gul Madred). He was also on an ep on S1 of Babylon 5; I watched that recently. Warner was the cold/gun-toting Lovejoy in the hit movie, Titanic (2002), who chased Jack and Rose.

“The World, the Flesh, & the Devil” (1959) & “Z for Zachariah” (2015)

Introduction

Post-apocalyptic sci-fi is set in a world/civilization after nuclear war, plague, or some type of disaster. I found a V long list of movies (on IMDB); here are ones I’ve seen so far: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), Children of Men (2006), Planet of the Apes (1968), The Matrix (1999), and The Handmaid’s Tale (1990). While dystopian fiction usually explores social or political struggle, society has NOT yet collapsed (BUT might be on the brink). In apocalyptic fiction, the focus is more on the characters or on man vs. nature.

The World, the Flesh, & the Devil (1959) starring Harry Belafonte, Inger Stevens, & Mel Ferrer

Ralph Burton (Harry Belafonte) is a miner trapped for several days after a cave-in somewhere in Pennsylvania. When he finally manages to dig himself out, it looks like civilization has been destroyed in a nuclear incident. He drives to NYC and finds it deserted. Making a life for himself in a luxury high-rise apt bldg, he’s shocked to eventually find another survivor, Sarah Crandall (Inger Stevens), a 21 y.o. blonde socialite. They start to rely on each other and form a close friendship. Some time later, they hear of another survivor who arrives via his small boat- Ben Thacker (Mel Ferrer). Ralph gives Ben an injection that saves his life; Sarah takes care of him while he recovers. In time, tensions start to rise as Ben and Ralph vie for Sarah.

Ben: I have nothing against negroes, Ralph.

Ralph: That’s white of you.

This unique/lesser-known movie showed up under recommendations on Amazon after I watched Z for Zachariah (see review below). The director here, Ranald McDougall, worked for Warner Bros. from 1944-50; he got an Oscar nom for his screenplay of the noir classic Mildred Pierce (1945) starring Joan Crawford. From the mid-’50s, he was primarily active in TV and worked on lower-budget films. Belafonte (who does sing a BIT here and looks gorgeous) was at the top of his career at this time. Though perhaps known more as a singer and civil rights activist, he acted in several V fine films and even had his own production company! So far, I’ve seen Belafonte in Carmen Jones (1954) w/ Dorothy Dandridge, Island in the Sun (1957)- which also contains a interracial love story, and the noir Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) w/ Robert Ryan.

The first 40 mins of the story is ALL about Ralph; we see a lonely (yet positive-minded) Belafonte navigate the empty/eerie streets of Manhattan. I hadn’t seen the acting of Stevens (a Swedish-American w/ a tragic life/early death) and Ferrer (Audrey Hepburn’s 1st husband; born to a Cuban father and American mother) before; they do fine in their roles. Race is a big issue here; a Black man and white woman wouldn’t be seen as equals or allowed be a romantic pair onscreen (in a segregated society). In one pivotal scene, we see the sexual frustration of both Ralph and Sarah as he gives her a haircut. Even on her birthday, Ralph doesn’t sit down to dinner w/ her, as Sarah wants, but provides the music and food. He acts like it’s OK when Ben and Sarah start to go out alone (on dates). The ending wasn’t quite what I expected, BUT it was intriguing! I think fans of classics will enjoy this movie.

[1] This movie will grab your interest and exercise your moral fiber. Race, prejudice and pride are but minor subplots in this excellent film. […] Black and white has never been so colorful.

[2] Belafonte is terrific especially in his early scenes and Miss Stevens registers quite strongly during their tense exchanges. Most of all, director Ranald MacDougall captures a barren, decimated-looking New York City to awesome, jaw-dropping effect.

[3] A very thought provoking movie that was not accepted at the time, but in retrospect, way way ahead of its time. In a racially charged world, it put forth the premise that race, in the final analysis, is superficial and meaningless. Once you strip away the layers of conditioning and socialization, you find, at the core, good and evil and the age old struggle as to which will prevail. A simple story, told directly and honestly.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

Z for Zachariah (2015) starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Margot Robbie, & Chris Pine

After the end of the world she thought she was alone. She was wrong. -A tagline for the movie

A woman in her early 20s, Ann Burden (Margot Robbie- an Aussie), lives w/ her dog (Faro) on a farm in the Appalachian Mtns, sheltered from radioactivity by rocky hills and a clean underground water supply. After about a year of being alone, Ann encounters John Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor- a Brit), a research engineer who (aided by meds and a HAZMAT-type suit) walked from a govt bunker to her valley. Unknowingly, John bathes in a contaminated waterfall, so quickly gets V sick! He is nursed back to health by Ann in her house; she is a Christian and prays to God to save him (thinking he’s a good man). John regains his strength and starts to improve their lives w/ his ideas/skills. They become friends and- eventually- think of pursuing a romantic relationship. Before that can happen, about 42 mins in, Faro runs ahead of Ann to another survivor- Caleb (Chris Pine- an American)!

This movie is based on the sci-fi book Z for Zachariah (1974) by Robert C. O’Brien; after his death, his wife and daughter crafted it into a YA novel. The “love triangle” was added in by the screenwriter (Nissar Modi- a Brit); only Ann (a 16 y.o. farm girl) and Loomis (a middle-aged engineer) are protagonists in the novel. The books has many convos btwn the characters re: religion vs. science, as a few readers have noted. The director (Craig Zobel- an American) recently gained some attention for HBO’s Mare of Easttown (starring Kate Winslet). Tobey Maguire (who served as a producer) and Amanda Seyfried were originally cast in the lead roles, BUT both had to drop out. The title recalls a children’s book that John takes off a shelf: A is for Adam. As some viewers noted, Zachariah is the prophet murdered between the temple and the altar (the last of the prophets killed) in The Bible.

This movie was shot on location in New Zealand; the main set was about 40 mi. from the nearest town. Zobel commented that it “felt like a Summer camp” working w/ his small cast and crew. He and the 3 actors had a week of rehearsal; they did some improv while shooting (as I learned from watching a few interviews from Sundance film fest). Ejiofor (now in his mid-40s) is an actor I’ve admired since seeing his debut role in the indie Dirty Pretty Things (2002). He can express a LOT w/ little (or no) words; he has large/expressive eyes and was classically-trained (as many British actors). After Ejiofor was cast, one line was added in re: race (one of the funny moments). Speaking of great eyes… Pine (now in his early 40s) does quite well w/ his role here; Caleb knows how to use his sex appeal/charm on Ann. Robbie does well also: she (now just 31 y.o.) achieved a LOT of success at an early age. I learned that she just also started producing- V smart move. Check this movie out IF you’re looking for something thoughtful!

[1] Chiwetel Ejiofor gave a compelling performance. It was so real, I think the majority of us would understand what he’s going through. I was shocked by how outstanding Chris Pine was in this movie, just perfect. Margot Robbie was amazing as well, just a solid piece of acting by all.

It made for the perfect emotional love triangle. Even though only three people appear in this movie, it said so much about us as a society.

[2] This is probably the quietest and most understated post-apocalyptic movies you’ll ever see, but deep down, it is truly fascinating. With great performances, impressive directing and an intriguing plot, this film is massively engrossing and surprisingly simple to understand from start to finish.

…a fascinating study of humans in their most basic state: survival and animalistic desires, relating itself almost to Adam and Eve and biblical theory.

[3] Some films make you cry, some films make you laugh and some films just amaze you. Well, this one will make you think and digest information that you will see. Z for Zachariah may not be the most romantic film nor may it be an adventure, but hours after watching it, I was still thinking about what this film represents.

-Excepts from IMDb reviews

Cast interview with Rolling Stone
Cast and director interview with The Wrap

Spoiler-Free Review: “Dune” (2021) starring Timothee Chalamet, Rebecca Fergusen, Zendaya, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Stellan Skarsgard, & Josh Brolin

A mythic and emotionally charged hero’s journey, “Dune” tells the story of Paul Atreides, a brilliant and gifted young man born into a great destiny beyond his understanding, who must travel to the most dangerous planet in the universe to ensure the future of his family and his people. As malevolent forces explode into conflict over the planet’s exclusive supply of the most precious resource in existence- a commodity capable of unlocking humanity’s greatest potential- only those who can conquer their fear will survive. -Synopsis from Warner Bros.

Dune (directed by Denis Villeneuve- Canadian of French heritage) is a movie unlike any other I’ve seen in recent years; I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it! Its 2 hr. 35 min. run time seemed to pass by quickly, as the story (incl. stunning visuals) was V compelling. The music (composed by Hans Zimmer) adds much to the movie; new instruments and a language were invented for the score. The costumes range from practical and lightweight to intricate and decorative. This is part one of the story; it is based on the book by Frank Herbert, one of the iconic writers of sci-fi. Herbert’s work has been compared to Tolkein’s LOTR trilogy; it obviously influenced George Lucas as he created Star Wars. The planet Arakis (also called Dune) is the ONLY place where “spice” (perhaps akin to oil in our world) can be found; many factions want to control this world. The natives of Arakis are the Fremin, a tough/desert people who live in a harsh environment w/ dangerous giant worms (yikes)! The scenes on the ocean world of Caladan were shot in Norway. Much of the desert scenes of Arakis were shot in Jordan and Abu Dhabi.

Paul: [From trailer] Dad, what if I’m not the future of House Atreides?

Duke Leto: A great man doesn’t seek to lead; he is called to it. But if your answer is no, you’d still be the only thing I ever needed you to be: my son.

In a world unlike ours 8,000 yrs. in the future, we meet Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet- doing a fine job), a skinny/bright/teen. He spends his days studying and learning to fight from his older mentor/sword master- Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin). One of the early scenes where Paul and Gurney spar is V cool; the choreography (by Roger Yuan) included a type of Filipino martial arts. Another mentor of Paul’s is the warrior, Duncan Idaho (Jason Mamoa), who brings charm and humor to the story. Much is expected from Paul, as he’s the son/heir of Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac- looking fab w/ gray-streaked hair/full beard). I loved the easy/warm relationship between Chalamet and Isaac. I’m surprised that Chalamet is growing on me; his naturalistic acting style, incl. ability to portray vulnerability easily fit this role. (Though Christian Bale will always be Laurie to me!)

Duncan: Dreams make good stories, but everything important happens when we’re awake.

Paul has inherited strong powers from his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson- a standout). She is the concubine of Duke Leto and was raised by the Bene Gesserit (a secretive/powerful order made up of all women). Chalamet and Ferguson also have great chemistry. Paul has visions about Arakis w/ an unknown/young woman (Zendaya- who appears in the 3rd act of this story). The Rev. Mother Mohaim (Charlotte Rampling- a veteran British actress) comes to see (and test) Paul on his abilities. House Atreides is given control of the desert planet from the Emperor. A powerful opponent, Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard- menacing even inside prosthetics), wants to take control of Arakis. Check out this movie on HBOMax! I didn’t know much re: this story, aside from watching the miniseries (which co-starred a V young James McAvoy) about 20 yrs. ago.

“The Dead Don’t Die” (2019) starring Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloe Sevigny, & Tilda Swinton

In Centerville, PA (FYI: Hudson Valley, NY is where they filmed), Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) and Officer Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) respond to a report from farmer Frank Miller (Steve Buscemi) re: a missing chicken. They briefly interact w/ Hermit Bob (Tom Waits), a bearded/armed eccentric who lives in the woods. On the way back to the station, Cliff notices it is still daylight after 8pm; Ronnie’s watch and cell have stopped working. At the local diner, Hank Thompson (Danny Glover), hears a radio report on “polar fracking.” Two zombies reanimate when night falls; they drink coffee and kill two women (Fern and Lily) working at the diner. When Hank comes by early the the next morning, he finds their mutilated bodies- yikes! Ronnie believes zombies killed the women.

Officer Ronnie Peterson: Is our plan to inform people about the zombie danger before it gets dark?

Chief Cliff Robertson: I guess so.

Ronnie: Because we passed Farmer Miller’s place a little while ago, do we need to inform him?

Cliff: F**k Farmer Miller.

Ronnie: Oh ok.

I learned that this is the 1st film of director Jim Jarmusch’s long career to receive a wide release in theaters here in the US! It contains deadpan humor (which is common for Murray) and is meta (self-referential). You’ll probably notice more if you’re familiar w/ the horror (esp. zombie) genre. I’m NOT one of those viewers- LOL! Also, the pacing is quite slow and the characters aren’t well-developed. I didn’t know what to expect here, BUT this is NOT my kind of movie. The zombie makeup and special effects seemed OK to me; I didn’t expect to see the more gruesome (bloody) stuff though.

Zelda Winston: Ah, Star Wars. That’s good fiction.

When Ronnie comes to the diner in his little red Smart car, the sounds are taken from a Star Wars vehicle. Later, when he hands the keys to the Scottish mortician, Zelda (Tilda Swinton), she notices his Star Wars key chain. Of course, most of the audience will know Driver as Kylo Ren in the latest sequel trilogy. He ONLY had about 3 wks to shoot this movie, as he was due back in England for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Driver’s hair is NOT too long; it looks really good/natural. He also wears (nerdy) glasses, but still has the Kylo (action star) body- what a combo! I felt a BIT bad for him seeing this movie- it just didn’t work (for most critics/viewers).

SyFy Channel Interviewer: “If you were a zombie, what would you be obsessed with?”

Driver: “I’d say cereal. I like all kinds of cereal.”

Sevigny: “Well, it’s not a thing, but vintage shopping.”

Frank wears a red baseball cap w/ the words “Make America White Again.” RZA is the driver of a WU-PS delivery truck; he’s a founding member of The Wu-Tang Clan musical group. The gas station manager, Bobby Wiggins (Caleb Landry Jones), knows a LOT re: zombies; this actor appeared in Get Out. The young “hipsters” coming through town (in a Pontiac Le Mans) are driven by Zoe (Selina Gomez). I learned that this car was prominently seen in George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968). Each zombie says only one word, related to something from their past or an item they are obsessed w/: coffee, Chardonnay, wi-fi, Snickers, popsicles, Alexa, etc.

[1] The zombie material is extremely familiar and there isn’t much to be said or done about endless scenes of humans battling zombies, but some of the quirky character interplay hits the mark; I was just left wanting more of that and less of the generic.

[2] Director Jim Jarmusch is trying for a meta hipster zombie comedy. It’s a more dead-pan and less funny Shaun of the Dead. […] This one is simply trying for fun. It’s not trying to be that smart. Bill Murray is perfect for the dead-pan especially without the anger to taint it. The cast is talented and they’re having fun.

[3] The zombie make-up was good, so that at least counted for something, but it wasn’t enough to make up for everything else where the movie either lacked, came in short or just didn’t even bother to make an effort.

[4] …if you like the filmmaker, go see it. But don’t expect greatness. Even I as a huge Bill Murray fan, who also likes Driver, cannot say this was a great movie.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“Midnight Special” (2016) starring Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kristen Dunst, & Adam Driver

From a local Texas news story, we learn that 8 y.o. Alton Meyer (Jaeden Martell) was been kidnapped by Roy Tomlin (Michael Shannon). Alton (who doesn’t look hurt/scared) wears goggles over his eyes, headphones over his ears, and reads comic books. Roy has a friend, Lucas (Aussie actor Joel Edgerton), who is along on the road trip to Florida. Alton’s adopted father, Pastor Calvin Meyer (actor/playwright Sam Shepard; he passed away in 2017), is the leader of a religious cult (The Ranch). He sends two of his loyal followers, Doak (Bill Camp) and Levi (Scott Haze), to find and bring back the boy. Agent Miller (Paul Sparks) is on the case; The Ranch has raised the suspicion of the FBI in recent mos. (after members purchased many firearms). A young NSA agent, Paul Sevier, (Adam Driver), is flown in to lead the investigation. We will also meet Sarah (Kristen Dunst- understated w/ no make-up), a woman who left the cult.

This film (written/directed) by Jeff Nichols was shot in 40 days on a budget of just $18M. It still has the look (aside from the special effects) and feel of an indie, BUT was produced by Warner Bros. This is the 4th film where Nichols collaborated w/ Shannon (who came up from the Chicago theater world). I was quite impressed w/ Shannon when I saw him in Ramin Bahrani’s indie, 99 Homes (2014), co-starring Andrew Garfield. Before quarantine, I’d sometimes attend free/press screenings of films in/around DC. I’ve also seen him as the villain (Gen. Zod) in Man of Steel (2013) and as a sheriff in Nocturnal Animals (2016). He is tall w/ big/wide-set eyes and projects a lot of intensity.

I heard about this movie on a few podcasts (when it first came out); many critics praised it and referred to Nichols as an auteur (a filmmaker whose individual style and complete control over all elements of production give a film its personal and unique stamp). This film is moody, atmospheric, mysterious, and the characters usually express themselves (w/o saying much). Spielberg is (obviously) a big influence on Nichols, who wrote the screenplay after becoming a father for the first time. I learned that Nichols turned doing directing Aquaman– wow- b/c he prefers to work on his own (small) projects!

If you’re a fan of Driver, you’ll enjoy this movie. He looks youthful, cute in a relatable way (wears glasses and the clothes are a bit nerdy), and projects intelligence and open-mindedness. Yes, this is before he made it big as Kylo Ren. Nichols said that Sevier was influenced by Hopper (Richard Dreyfuss) in Jaws (1975) and Lacombe (Francois Truffaut) in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)- a movie I haven’t seen. Nichols had never seen HBO’s Girls; Driver was recommended to him by his casting director.

We took a character that could’ve been the most clichéd in the whole movie, and maybe still is, but I think it was Adam who started to ask the right questions about that character. […] I remember in one of the first scenes we did, he sat down at this desk and banged his leg on the table and dropped his bookbag. And I remember thinking, “Oh, that’s terrible, should I call cut?” And I realized, “Oh no, he’s being Paul Sevier. That’s how Paul Sevier enters a room.” And it just made it better and I’m quite impressed with Adam Driver. …I think he’s probably gonna be one of the most important actors of our generation.

-Jeff Nichols (from March 22, 2016 interview in Indiewire)

This has a great sense of sci-fi realism… Shannon simply has intensity.

A beautiful, touching story. Nice performances. Fascinating subject.

– Excerpts from IMDB reviews